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Not All Problems Can be Solved

July 26, 2020 | by Emuna Braverman

The key is to learn how to manage them.

When my husband brings groups of American professors to Israel, they bring that American can-do spirit with them (well, they used to anyway). With minimal knowledge of the situation (my apologies to said professors) they come with the attitude that the problems of the Middle East are actually quite simple and could probably be solved before dinner.

They are disabused of this notion by many of their experiences but they are also confronted with a completely different attitude towards life’s challenges. “In Israel”, they are told, “We don’t seek to solve our problems; we seek to manage them.”

This flies in the face of a certain national spirit and expectations, but if we can move past that, I think we could see the wisdom in those words and apply them to many situations. I recently read an article by two female professors suggesting that the work-life conflict can’t really be solved. This is an extremely freeing idea. We’ve all experienced what I call the stress versus guilt dilemma. If we’re home with our kids, we feel stress (and that was before corona!). If we’re away from them (either for work or even for a much-deserved day at the spa), we feel guilty.

That’s because we think we should be able to solve this conflict, if only we were better mothers, if only we had more wisdom, more insight, more help in the house… But some problems are just not soluble. They can simply be managed. And this may be the most important insight of all.

Life is full of challenges. We tend to think of them as an obstacle race; I jump over this hurdle and then I’m on to the next. We’ve solved the first challenge and are ready to confront the ensuing ones. But, like the professors in Israel, if we are open to it, we may discover that many of our challenges can’t be solved, they’re not going away – and we need to learn to live with them, dare I say, manage them.

The growth opportunity is not in finding the solution but in discovering the courage to live with the situation, day in and day out. If you have a chronic disease, if you have a special needs child, if you have a disabled spouse, to cite a few obvious examples, there is no end to the struggle. There is no solution, pat or otherwise. The real challenge lies in learning to live with it, in making peace with it, in finding joy in it.

While there are parts of me that certainly admire that American bravado, I think it does us a disservice on a personal level. I think it has led to unrealistic expectations of how our lives should play out. I think it has allowed us to miss the forest for the trees, the end goal for the experience.

Every day we wake up and confront the challenges of our lives. And even if some of them are possibly “solved”, new ones arise, some with easy solutions, some with difficult ones and some with none at all. We have high expectations of ourselves, we may feel extremely frustrated when we can’t find a solution to our problems.

It’s possible we were just looking in the wrong place. But it’s also probable that we are facing a situation that has no solution, a challenge that we have to manage rather than solve, an ongoing growth opportunity – a place where, as they say, the gifts just keep coming!

A change of attitude and expectations can give us the strength we need to deal with our seemingly constant tests.

I remember reading a review of a book by a prominent professor of political science with ties to Washington. The tenor of the book was one of constant frustration. Because of her challenges with her children, she couldn’t fulfill her career obligations the way she would have liked to. Her solution? Better government-provided child-care. My solution? Give up your unrealistic expectations of “having it all” and recognize that we can’t solve this situation - but we can manage it.

I think this is an important key to happiness. I just wish I’d known it when my kids were younger…

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