Why your job is a never-ending problem

“What kind of problems do you like?” a career counselor once asked me.

I was twenty-something—one of my main problems was finding a girlfriend. But that didn’t seem like a life’s work.

Your job, every job, is driven by problems. It could be problems with 1) information, 2) things, or 3) people—maybe animals too; I don’t know where you work, or what your colleagues are like.

(Career expert Richard N. Bolles identified these categories years ago, plus a list of 70+ applicable skills, in What Color is Your Parachute.)

Problems often bleed across categories. Consider a tough business presentation: your information is extremely detailed, your audience is extremely distracted, your LCD projector is extremely dead.

So while it’s good to know what problems you like to solve—that’s how you add value at work—you also add value by solving the 10,000 other problems that get in your way, every day, while you’re trying to solve the main ones.

Here are a few of my recent problems:

1) My printer: It’s two years old. This week, it started making a strange and disturbing noise, as if to say, “Enough printing, already. I’m tired. Please just shoot me.”

When I called the company, they suggested I get a drum. Did I really need that? (Machinery is not my long suit.) But ok, I ordered a drum—maybe now I can make my own strange and disturbing noises.

2) IRS audit: I wasn’t audited this week, or ever, but I did prepare tax info for my accountant. Collecting info on my business is a time killer. But what’s the alternative?


Not filing, according to The Wall Street Journal, is the last item on a list of 12 audit triggers. If there were a #13, it would be, “Complete your return fast!—hurry, hurry, hurry, and don’t worry about details, it’s fine to make everything up—why aren’t you done already?”

3) My website server: I don’t know what my server really does all day. I picture a person in there, somewhere, trying desperately to keep the whole operation afloat. Recently, there were some glitches with my email and—not to spread rumors—my server was, allegedly, “involved.”

It took forever to fix. On the other hand, it didn’t involve any drumming.

I could go on and on, and I’m sure you could too. Sometimes though, I meet people who think that everything at work should be smooth and easy, no problems with their boss, or their organization, or anything else.

That’s a problem.

Tip: Expect breakdowns; use them to deepen your resourcefulness. That way, the next breakdown won’t be you.

© Copyright 2014 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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