How to Turn Problems into Opportunities

Get easy tips on how to overcome obstacles by finding the hidden opportunities beneath your problems.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #141

One of the most insidious, unproductive, icky ways we use time is complaining about our problems—especially when we should be thinking about them as new opportunities.

Bernice and Melvin have finally made it official: they are dating. They brought pictures. They went on a date to a water park. There they stood, wet clothes clinging to their moistened bodies … it was like some horrible Creature From the Deep episode … waiting in line for their next ride. It was a long line.

The Difference Between Problems and Opportunities

Melvin said “Long line. Ick.” He sulked and withdrew. Bernice said “We get to meet people! The Goddess will guide us!” and sure enough, they met people, made new friends, and even got some great tips on how Bernice could use her Goddess energy to rebalance her chakras.

Was the long line a problem? Nope. A problem is just a problem because we think of it that way. Stuff happens. If we don’t like the stuff, we label it a problem and try to jam the world back into the way it was going before. If we do like the stuff, we label it an opportunity and try to take advantage of it. The difference between a problem and an opportunity is what we do with it, not what it is to begin with.

How to Turn Problems into Opportunities

Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Write “problems” in the left-hand column. Write “opportunities” in the right. List your problems down the left. Now comes the fun part. Go down the right column and write down how each problem could be some kind of opportunity.

How to Find the Opportunity: What New Abilities Does It Bring?

This takes some thought. It’s not always obvious how, “Facial features destroyed by exploding car battery” can be turned into an opportunity. You really need to sit with it to realize that having no face is a fantastic advantage for a spy trying to infiltrate an enemy country. You can be anyone. All it takes is an eyebrow pencil and a quick trip to the Halloween mask store. If the recently arrested Russian spies had had no face, would they have been arrested? Of course not! Facial recognition software doesn’t work if you don’t have a face. State Department, here you come.

That’s one way of finding the opportunity: ask yourself what new capabilities your problem gives you. If the problem is that your car broke down, it gives you the ability to sell car parts on eBay. It also gives you the chance to learn to use public transportation, which could give you a lot of time to read and relax while you travel. Though you may or may not want this capability, your problem does give it to you.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.