My wife is a professor at a local university. She recently shared a video with me about cognitive thinking that struck a nerve. The speaker was an authority on behavioral research — I can't remember his name off the top of my head, but he had me spellbound for the length of the video. In essence, his viewpoint is that we control the outcome of a situation by determining how we choose to view it. For instance, at a time in his career when he had pulled together the funding for a major research project, this therapist was dumbfounded to discover that his dream assignment was anything but enjoyable. In between the hiring and paperwork and griping colleagues, his vision had become a considerable burden.
But instead of succumbing to what had become a monumental problem, he chose to view it through a different prism. Instead of being head researcher or cognitive therapist or whatever other title might have been most appropriate, he instead labeled himself as simply "Problem Solver."
By identifying the true nature of his tasks every day, this researcher admitted to himself that like it or not, problem solving was his number one priority.
Well, this morning at cross country practice I had to admit that I was no longer a coach. Rather than being annoyed by bureaucracy, or petty sniping from opponents, detail junkies, turf-warriors more intent on protecting their piece of the action than behaving like nice people, and even the myriad strange excuses from my runners that began to completely bum me out, I fell back into problem solving mode. This morning, I was not Head Cross Country Coach. I was Head Therapist. Chief Listener. Grand High Poobah Problem Solver.
I'm really not a grown-up. I get to write and coach for a living, which is basically the adult version of playing in a sandbox all day long. Not many people tell me what to do — although my wife kicks my ass on a daily basis. Choosing to admit there are problems in need of solving — and that I am the one who must address them — is part and parcel of leadership. And of course, the "R" word: responsibility.
Of course, there are the problems better left undisturbed, knowing they must solve themselves. Those are harder to deal with, because I just want to fix them and make things right rather than ride out the politics and intrigue that make them untouchable.
Most people think being a writer is all about creativity. But in actuality, all writing is is a series of problems in need of a solution: what topic to write about? What's the first chapter? The first sentence? The first word? It's a process that continues on every page of the book as lines and words are added and erased and woven into a story. Whether the words are pretty or simply utilitarian does not matter. All of those decisions are about one thing: making people turn the pages. At the end of the book, problem solving is forgotten. All that remains is the story.
So it is with this cross country season, my thirteenth. All the problem solving that has my head about to explode will be forgotten when all is said and done. The athletes and their races will be all I remember, written forever on meet results and databases that will allow me to look back years from now to remember a competition, the workouts defining that week of training, the smell of the breeze, the color of a hundred singlets running stride for stride, and a day when suffering and surpassing personal limits are gloriously intertwined.
On that day, I will not remember being a problem solver, but I will always remember the story.