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Small problems

Jan. 1, 2008
The other day I was talking to a friend who had an experience that I am sure many of us share.

by Theodore C. Schumann, CPA, CFP

The other day I was talking to a friend who had an experience that I am sure many of us share. He and his two siblings returned to their hometown and visited their old neighborhood. They walked by their childhood home, and visited their old school and their local church. Twenty-five or 30 years had passed since they had last been back to the town, and they all experienced the same surprise how small things were now compared to their childhood memories. Their former home seemed smaller, the walk to school shorter and the school itself had shrunk dramatically.

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Our lasting memories are based on our perceptions at the time. This phenomenon is true of our problems as well; at any time in our life, we may experience problems that feel overwhelming but prove to be minor as we look back on them years later. I think back to the days of high school when popularity and having a car were the key problems of the day. Or the times in college when making good grades, choosing a major, or finding that first job were the dominant sources of stress. Later in life we look back at these problems and almost laugh at how silly we were to let these problems cause so much worry.

Some periods of our lives are filled with problems and other times are filled with joy. Often, the way we view our problems greatly affects how we solve them. If we could project ourselves to the future and look back at them as insignificant, it would make it easier to solve our problems and not let them overwhelm us. Most problems are little more than puzzles to be solved. If we can ignore the discomfort of the problems and focus on possible solutions then we are well on our way to finding those solutions.

As difficult as it may be to do so, we should be grateful for our problems because with every problem comes an opportunity. Solving today’s problem prepares us to solve tomorrow’s problems. As we live our lives, each experience equips us for the next challenge. My father used to tell me that we acquire wisdom by living through these experiences. Maybe it makes sense to consider our problems steps along the way in our journey to wisdom.

No one is born wise. In order to learn, we almost need to make mistakes along the way. Any mistake we make or problem we encounter makes each of us a stronger person. Our current big problems will grow into opportunities, and if we look at them this way we will certainly grow each time we successfully resolve one of them. Next time you’re facing a big problem, look ahead 20 or 25 years from now and recognize how small this problem is in the big picture of your life.

For most of us, our most valuable accomplishments came with great effort and, in some cases, hardship. Surviving the struggle made them truly worthwhile. Most of you may remember the struggle of getting through dental school. At the time, it may have seemed like a tremendous struggle, but after you were out a few years and started the new struggle of owning your own practice, dental school probably didn’t seem as tough. Over time we realize that things are never truly as bad as they seem. Often our emotions allow us to make our problems bigger than they are. Our active imaginations can create some pretty negative expectations if we allow them to take control.

The bad news is that life will always present us with problems, many of them beyond our control. The good news is that although we have only limited control over which problems come our way, we can completely control how we approach them. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Editor’s Note: Reprinted with permission from Dental Business Success Newsletter.

Theodore C. Schumann, CPA, CFP®, speaks on dental business topics and regularly lectures at the University of Michigan Dental School, the University of Detroit-Mercy Dental School, and dental meetings throughout the United States. He is host for a study group for dentists and is the author of a monthly newsletter. Reach Schumann by e-mail at [email protected].

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