Have you ever seen the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean? If not, it is a Disney movie that follows the adventures of a witty, enterprising, and somewhat of a hot mess of a pirate named Captain Jack Sparrow. There’s a great quote that is attributed to Captain Jack (played by actor Johnny Depp), that goes, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”
If you follow the movies, you know that Captain Jack Sparrow is the ultimate problem solver. He finds himself in predicament after predicament and gets himself out of trouble every time by pivoting and coming up with some crazy solution. And after all, he is an entrepreneur of sorts, on a mission to live life the way he wants, which is why that quote came to mind as I thought about how many business owners get stuck instead of breaking through to the next stage of their business.
In most cases, the problem they face is not really the problem. The problem is their emotional attachment to the belief that they cannot solve the problem. And the more they get attached to this belief, the bigger the problem gets, which leads to an even more intense emotional attachment to the problem that starts to seem insurmountable. They end up self-sabotaging themselves and getting in their own way in an unproductive and dream-busting catch-22.
So, before you read on, this topic is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it’s kind of a doozy. This is a topic that is much more intense than something like creating a marketing plan or writing up a content calendar. It’s personal. Very personal. It’s not a comfortable feeling to have someone point out to you that what is holding you back is you. That you might in fact be your own worst enemy, getting in your own way. It can feel like you’re being judged, like your self-confidence is being questioned. It can feel like you are being accused of not having the right mindset to automatically succeed without help. Or to succeed at all.
The thing is, I’m not judging. I understand. I have done this to myself from time to time. I have created problems that might not otherwise have been there. And I have learned from experience that sometimes it is really hard to see when you are attached to a problem. Sometimes you need someone like me point it out. When you are emotionally attached to a problem, the reason is that it is connected to your own self-definition, or how you see yourself and the image that you are putting out into the world.
Let me tell you my story first. I’ve had in my life, some serious physical challenges. I had three surgeries before I was two years old. I had a dog bite injury when I was five that resulted in needing reconstruction surgery. I have problems with my hips. I have asthma. I sound like the hot-mess-express, right?
But I do all sorts of workouts. I’ve done power lifting and body building. I run. And one of the things I’m most proud of and have always said that I’m so proud of is being able to do all these things even though I had all those medical problems, right? Like just blowing right past those problems, even though it hurts, even though it’s harder, makes me kind of a badass. It is part of who I am that I can achieve these things despite my body trying to tell me otherwise.
So during an ugly treadmill running session at Orange Theory, it occurred to me. (I swear my strokes of genius seem to come in tandem with oxygen depletion.) If my definition of myself is that I am someone who achieves through hardship, and I attach value to the fact of achieving over hardship (cause that’s cool, we all love a good story like that), what if the result of those thoughts about myself becomes a situation where I create hardship just so that I can achieve?
Can you see the problem I created for myself, where am I making things harder than they need to be so that I could feel good about achieving something? Where am I being attached to things being hard instead of asking myself what if it were easy?
People do this all the time in all sorts of ways. Here’s a different type of example from my own.
Back in the 80’s when I first got into the corporate world there was a woman I used to work with who had a difficult home situation. She was always talking about how difficult her husband was. He did not do anything around the house, her house was always falling apart, and on top of it she had to do all of the child care for their young kids while working full time and sometimes overtime!
One day I was talking to someone else about it at work, “Oh, isn’t this terrible, her car’s broken down, her house is falling apart, and her husband never helps with the kids and the housework and she works more hours than he does……etc etc etc.”
So, this other coworker looks at me and rolls their eyes and says “no.”
This stopped me in my tracks because this wasn’t a jerky person and they had known this coworker a lot longer than I had. Then he tells me that their family had millions of dollars. They could fix everything and hire help to do the rest. But if they fixed it, you wouldn’t say, oh, poor so-and-so, and that’s what they really want.
I was flabbergasted because he was right! That was what they really wanted. They wanted us to feel bad for them. That’s how they got attention. If they would have solved the problem, then no one would feel bad for them and shower them with their concern. I know that’s a little extreme of an example, but I want you to get the idea really clearly.
So, here’s where we going to get a little bit uncomfortable, or perhaps even extremely uncomfortable. Because I want you to stop and think about what problem are you attached to, and what are you getting out of it? Because the way that you are going to break through the blocks that are holding you back is to take an uncomfortable look at yourself, as an outside observer if necessary, and then first identify, and ultimately change those behaviors.
One of the things that I try to do to solve this is to become an observer of my own behavior. This takes a little practice, but I try to ask myself all the time, why did I do that? Why am I doing this? Is there a different way to do this? What results am I getting that I don’t really want? What am I getting out of these negative results?
When asking yourself these difficult questions, it helps to remain curious and open minded. I’ve heard it phrased as “stay in the question.” So, stay curious, but authentically curious. Sarcastically curious doesn’t work. In fact, sarcasm when exploring this notion of what is holding you back is probably a big indicator that you are dealing with some issues that you do not want to face.
Where are you being more attached to a problem than you are to a possible solution? Are you being like how I was and making things harder for yourself so you can feel good about overcoming the obstacle? Are you being like my old coworker who gets attention because of all of her hardships so why would she ever actually want to fix them? Or are you coming up against problems of your own making because you are afraid of what your life might look like if you were to blast through the problem and actually achieve your goals? Are you afraid of making more money than your spouse? Are you afraid of the ways your life might change, and you would leave your old life behind?
It is really hard to see when you’re attached to a problem. We are often following a pattern that has served us in some way for a long time. We are often up against some really deep seeded emotional blocks and fears. This is where the right mentorship and the right coaches have made such a difference in my world because they are able to point out to me when I’m thinking everything sounds like a completely logical thing to do because of the stories I tell myself about the person I think that I am. Sometimes it takes somebody else’s being able to see the truth for what it is and tell you in a loving but also straight forward way to knock it off!
There’s a quote, and for the life of me, I can’t find who said it, but I love this quote. It is something about how your level of success is tied directly to the amount of truth you can learn about yourself without running away. Sometimes to achieve what you want; you need to stand your emotional ground and face the truth about yourself. It’s like the old cliché, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has perished from learning the truth about the fears and emotional baggage that is holding you back from achieving your dreams.
As I say all the time, right now might be the time for one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have – an honest conversation with yourself. Self-improvement is not for the faint of heart, but then again, neither is entrepreneurship.