What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do

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This week we’re talking about how to solve your own problems.

I know…it’s not a very sexy topic but it’s vital for 20-somethings to learn how to solve their own problems. And before any parents out there jump in to agree or disagree with me… some of you are part of the problem.

In school we’re taught how to think critically. We learn how to look at a particular issue from various sides in order to determine the best possible outcome. So, why is it so hard to apply that same critical eye to our issues?

It’s so easy to see your best friend should dump her loser boyfriend. It’s so simple to see the perfect career path your kid should wander down. It’s easy to see that if your sister stopped drinking so much soda, she’d lose weight.

It’s simple and easy for you, but certainly not for the person who’s struggling. The person struggling is in love with her boyfriend or scared about what it would mean to pursue that career path or isn’t ready to give up daily comfort for long-term success.

Maybe you’re a young person who needs to figure out how to approach your problem without relying on hours of input from your parents, friends, co-workers and the guy at Starbucks. Or maybe you’re a parent who hates to see their kid flounder when you know exactly what they need to do. Either way, problem solving is never easy or simple- but it is something you must learn to do on your own. And, at the end of this post, there’s a free printout of affirmation cards with great reminders for facing your choices with confidence.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

When you’re young, learning to address and solve your own problems can feel like the day your parents told you it was time to take off the training wheels of your favorite tricycle.

It’s new, it’s awkward and it can feel like you may fall over any second. There are just so many decisions to choose from when you’re young. You’re away from your parents, out of college, maybe unmarried with no children; you can travel the world, move across the country or even dye your hair 15 different colors.

For some young people all these choices excite and challenge them, but for other young people it can create fear and overwhelm.

If you fall into the “fear and overwhelm” group, that’s OK. This is why young people struggle so much making choices. Not only are the possibilities endless, but you haven’t had a lot of experience making big life decisions.

If you’re a parent, this may be the moment when you would normally swoop in and start “fixing” things for your kid. The problem is your “kid” is now an adult and this is no longer your job.

When your son or daughter was growing up he or she needed a secure base as they explored unchartered territory and, when they were younger, that was you. While your heart is in the right place, your “baby” is all grown up and it’s not helpful long-term for children to use their parents as their first and only means of solving their problems.

By helping your kid every time they get stuck you’re inadvertently giving them two messages:

  1. “I’m available to solve all your problems” and

  2. “I don’t think you can solve them on your own.”

Now I know that was never your intention but now it’s time to gently tell your son or daughter, “I love you kid, but you gotta figure this out on your own” without making them feel as if you don’t care.

Don’t worry about what you think you should be doing…worry about the issue right in front of you.

Many young people have been dreaming of “adulthood” for years and they have a lot of expectations of what they think their 20-something years are “supposed” to look like.

This is where I see most twenty-somethings get tripped up. They feel this pull to create a life that they “think” they should have, instead of creating a life that feels authentic to them.

First, you have to remember that while you haven’t made as many “adult” decisions that your parents have made, you have made several choices and decisions for yourself up until now. You’ve chosen the kinds of friends you have, your clothes, your hobbies, the food you eat, your college and major… the list goes on. If you’d like some close-at-hand reminders of how to determine choices that feel authentic to you, don’t forget to check out the free printout below.

There are few decisions in life that cannot be changed, corrected, or reversed. You can leave a job, you can leave a city, you can leave a relationship and you can leave an apartment. Don’t let fear keep you from solving the problems and issues right in front of you.

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If your kid comes to you asking for you to solve the problem for them, it’s time to have a conversation with your kid and explain while you’ll always love and adore them you can no longer be on-call to solve all their problems. This conversation may be tough but it’s critical for both you and your adult child.

There’s never an “ideal time” to have this conversation but don’t wait for the next crisis call to have this talk. If you do it when they’re in the midst of a crisis, they won’t be able to hear what you’re saying and could easily misinterpret your intentions. So, pick a neutral time when all is well to start this conversation.

During the conversation, be transparent and honest and admit you made the mistake of not talking to them sooner. Let them know it’s in their best interest to learn how to solve their own problems and to learn how to manage uncomfortable feelings on their own.

You wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place if you didn’t think they could take care of themselves.

Make sure to tell them you wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place if you didn’t think they could take care of themselves. Tell them you know they’re a smart, confident, resourceful person and by you solving their problems and comforting them every time something goes wrong, you’re not doing your job as a parent.

Reassure them this doesn’t mean they can never call you again or you’re no longer available to talk but you’re asking them to not automatically call you when they’re struggling.

Once you start, just keep going… you’re going to be OK.

For all the 20-Somethings, if you’re struggling to solve a problem, here’s a quick exercise you can try:

  1. Write out exactly what the problem is so you can clearly see all sides of the issue. If you’re struggling to see a particular side of an issue, a good question to ask yourself is, “What else could be true?”

  2. Now that you have all the facts, ask yourself, “What decision or choice feels right to me?” If you find yourself using words like “I should” or “I suppose”,  that’s a good hint that the choice doesn’t feel authentic to you.

  3. Write out how you want to solve this problem.

  4. Now walk away. Give yourself some space. Do something, anything, but think about this problem.

  5. Come back to your decision and see how it sits with you. Does it still feel right? If so, you have your answer. If not, go back to step 2.

There is no magic formula when it comes to solving problems or making decisions. A vision is not going to come to you in the middle of the night. The big “aha” moments you read and hear about are few and far between in life. Most likely you’ll get your clues on what choices to make in small and subtle ways. Remember to keep an eye out for those small and subtle ways with affirmation card cutouts that you can download for free at the end of this page.

If you’re a parent and you’ve had “the talk” with your kid about solving their own problems, you will continue to get phone calls from your son or daughter frantically asking for your help. Accept that now.

When they do call, this is your opportunity to help them help themselves. It may feel odd at first but during these conversations challenge yourself to only ask questions. That’s right, you’re just going to ask questions. No statements, no suggestions, no advice and certainly no criticism. Just questions.

The goal is to keep putting the responsibility of solving the problem back on your child. If your child isn’t able to come up with any solutions, don’t give in- just ask, “Who else can you talk to about this?”

Sticking to your boundaries is going to be the hardest, but most important, step of this process. You must continue to bite your tongue and ask those questions. Change never happens overnight and you’re going to be tested many times and you may even slip here and there.

While these conversations can be tough, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The light is this new relationship you’re building with your child.

Confident Choice Cards!

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Get a FREE copy of the Confident Choices Affirmation Cards - tiny reminders that show you how to determine choices that feel authentic to YOU.

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Tess Brigham