I am a super optimist. Whenever I sprain my ankle, the first thing I think is: thank goodness I didn’t break my ankle. Whenever I lose a bidding war on a house I want, I think to myself: there will always be another one. Whenever someone says something terrible about me online, I think to myself: at least someone is reading.
Perhaps perpetual failure is the reason why I’m so optimistic. Without optimism, I’d probably end up a complete failure after getting into so much trouble in grade school.
There will come a point in your life where you’ll face a difficult situation that feels impossible to solve. Instead of giving up, I encourage you to think things through. The better your problem solving skills, the more coveted you will be as an employee and the more successful you’ll be as an entrepreneur.
Let me share with you three unrelated examples of problems that were solved with some good old fashion brainstorming. If these examples don’t get you pumped, I don’t know what will.
Solutions To Difficult Problems
Problem #1: Low household water pressure
Who doesn’t love strong water pressure at home? It feels very satisfying to be able to spray gunk off your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.
Unfortunately, my home’s water pressure isn’t very strong. To conserve water, the SF Water Utility Commission purposefully throttles water pressure around the city. That’s fine, since we were in a drought. Even after changing my main water pipe from 3/4 inch to 1 inch in diameter when I built my master bathroom, the water pressure still remained mediocre.
I called the utility company to see if they could turn up the pressure and they laughed in my face. Then I had a lightbulb moment. Because I have rain showers in my master bathroom, the water pressure feels stronger than my normal shower head upstairs protruding from the side wall. Gravity gave my downstairs shower an extra oomph.
I didn’t install a rain shower head to experience more water pressure. I just thought it would be nice to feel like I was taking a shower under a waterfall every time I stepped inside. And of course, for the sake of fun and equality, I installed a second rain shower and a hand shower.
When I remodeled my kitchen, I told my friend to pick up any nice looking stainless steel faucet he could find. I was already in charge of picking out the tiles, countertops, cabinets, fixtures, dishwasher, range, microwave, and floors. I wasn’t too concerned about the faucet.
My friend ended up getting a stainless steel “look” faucet that was really made of plastic. It had an unpleasant cheap sound whenever you’d tap it with your fingernails. The handle wiggled while turning it off and on. Finally, the water pressure was annoyingly low. It was a piece of crap.
After three years of kitchen use, I’ve come to realize the kitchen faucet is a focal point that can either delight or disappoint the user. Every time I used my wiggly plastic kitchen faucet it bummed me out. So I decided to go shopping.
One faucet caught my eye, a 15″ tall Hansgrohe Talis C faucet with a large pull out nozzle and a beautiful stainless steel finish. I had seen similar types of faucets in nicely remodeled homes, and knew this was the one. I also hypothesized that the height and curve of the faucet would help increase the water pressure.
The Hansgrohe faucet cost $450 compared to my original Moen faucet for just $150. But I didn’t care. I bought two! One for me, and one for my rental house, which I’m considering selling to simplify. It was just too embarrassing to have a cheap faucet in a rental that commands $8,000+/month. Realtors always pointed out the need to change the faucet when they walked through.
Not only do I now have two fantastic looking kitchen faucets, the water pressure in both my home and my rental are now at least 30% stronger thanks to the long curved neck. The 15″ height helps create a build up of pressure until the water gets forced down. Every time I go to spray down the dirty dishes or wash my hands, I feel ecstatic!
2. Getting an athletic scholarship as an un-athletic person.
One of the best ways to get into a prestigious university is to be a great athlete. After spending the season coaching high school tennis and getting to know the athletic director very well, I’ve learned how big of a boost a kid can get with his or her athletic potential.
Most high school athletes won’t get a scholarship to play for a Division I school. But some athletes can increase their chances of getting into a great Division III school like Amherst with the help of sports. Colleges like Amherst and Williams have 14% or lower acceptance rates, but are considered academically on par with the top universities in the country. Given 99% of college athletes do not become pro athletes, the real emphasis is on getting into the best school possible to give yourself as many career choices as possible.
Because I’m of average height (5’10”) and my wife is of below average height (<5’5″), we’re likely not going to be producing any Shaquille O’Neals or Maria Sharapovas any time soon. You can definitely succeed in athletics being shorter when being taller is a benefit like Isaiah Thomas from the Celtics (5’9″ all-star) and Kei Nishikori (5’10”, top 5 tennis player). It’s just harder, all things being equal.
I got to talking to 26 year old female named Lisa one day about the benefits of public versus private high school. She went to a public high school and ended up at Stanford with a lot of grants that made attending cheaper than attending a public university. She didn’t feel the public high school held her back, especially since she was the valedictorian. But she did say her rowing definitely helped her get in. Her high school won the state rowing championships back-to-back.
Lisa is around 5’7″ and I could tell she definitely was strong. She told me something interesting. Her Stanford crew team only had three scholarships. Despite being one of the best rowers, she wasn’t one of the recipients. But the coxswain was!
For those who don’t know, the coxswain is the person who navigates, motivates, and strategizes the rowers to victory. No rowing is required. As a coxswain, the lighter and smaller you are, the less weight your crew has to row!
So for those of you who aren’t super tall or physically gifted, don’t worry. To take advantage of your small stature, you could be a coxswain or a fencer or a gymnast. There are a number of sports where being small is a great advantage.
If you’re a 5’1″, 100 lbs female, you could very well be the most sought after coxswain on the planet if you just practice. Note: regatta rules require coxswain to meet minimum weights. If they don’t, the difference is made up in sandbags.
3. Returning a lost wallet to an international visitor.
On May 17th I went for a nice afternoon walk in the SF Botanical Gardens. As a nature lover, it’s one of my favorite free things to do as an early retiree. Some of my most popular posts have come after long walks in the park.
As I was leaving the park, I noticed a brown Pierre Cardin wallet on the ground. Inside the wallet was a guy’s B1/B2 Border Crossing Card, a United baggage check claim from LAX, and $213. Holy crap! Without his Card, Martin wouldn’t be allowed back into Mexico!
I was panicking for Martin because it was 6:45pm and the park attendees had already left at 6pm (last entry is 6pm and you can leave whenever you want). I stayed back for 30 minutes, hoping he’d return, but he didn’t. Since I had ordered some takeout food 45 minutes earlier, I needed to pick up the food and also drop off my friend, who had a dinner appointment.
What to do?! Think. Think. Think. Losing your wallet is the worst. Got it!
I pulled out a business card from my car’s center console, wrote a message for Martin to contact me if he found it, placed the card near where I found his wallet, and put a nickel on it so my card wouldn’t fly away.
I drove about 10 feet, stopped the car, and got back out because I feared my card would be blown away by the wind. It’s kind of like when you leave the house and go back because you fear you may have left the stove on. I replaced the nickel with a heavy rock.
I picked up my food, dropped off my friend who was already late for dinner, and began to eat my yummy soy sauce fried chicken wings from Manna restaurant. I couldn’t stop thinking about how to get Martin’s wallet back to him so I sent out a tweet, hoping maybe the internet gods would connect us. I also sent an e-mail to the one vendor’s business card in his wallet.
After eating another two chicken wings, I decided to call 311 (information) and ask what I should do. They suggested I drop off Martin’s wallet at the closest police station. If Martin went to any police station, he’d be able to locate his wallet because the report would be in the system.
Sadly, the first thing I thought about when the operator told me to go to the police was not to go to the police.
I kept thinking I’d encounter some young, racist, power-tripping police officer who’d just take all of Martin’s cash and throw his ID in the dumpster because he was from Mexico.
Then I had images of ICE officers busting into people’s homes and dragging away in handcuffs illegal immigrant children.
The media had completely warping my judgement of the people who are supposed to protect and serve.
Before driving to the police station, I saw in my Twitter feed a random person called @Chukunu saying he was Martin! Could it be true? It had only been an hour since I found his wallet. Was some random guy screwing with me so he could beat me up and steal Martin’s wallet? Hmm. Not if this kung fu blogger has anything to say about it!
Thankfully, @chukunu was Martin. He shot me an e-mail in addition to his Twitter response, and I told him I’d be over in 15 minutes.
When I pulled up, he and his buddy were sitting on the bench waiting. I wasn’t entirely sure it was him through my tinted windows, but I could see his glee when he leaped off the bench.
It turns out Martin had dropped his wallet while waiting for an Uber with his friend. It was only after he’d gotten across town to the Mission District 25 minutes away did he realizedit was missing.
They took an Uber all the way back, noticed my card under the rock, and immediately sent an e-mail and checked Twitter. HOORAY!
We hugged it out and I asked him about his adventures so far.
He said this was his first visit to San Francisco and thanked me profusely.
His joy was my joy. I had been on a mission to get back his wallet no matter what so he could safely return to LAX and then Mexico City. He confirmed that without his Border Crossing ID, it would be impossible to return home.
I also contacted United Airlines and was going to speak to the Parks & Recreation department first thing the next morning. Worst case, I was hoping Martin would get to SF International Airport, United would tell him to contact me, I’d come meet him, and away he’d go.
Is this not the happiest person you’ve seen in your life?! Maybe US / Mexico relations will flourish after all.
There’s Always A Solution
If there is a problem, be determined to find a solution. Don’t just give up. Never give up! Yes, we’ll have some Dunning-Kruger moments where we don’t realize our delusions until we’re deep in a hole. But if you develop a solution-oriented mindset, you’ll naturally start making a positive difference in your life and in the lives of others.
Here are some other examples of problems many people don’t believe are solvable, which I’ve addressed:
The list goes on and on because I’m focused on solving some of our most vexing problems.
I hope these three examples give you some motivation to keep on going through difficult times. It often seems like the world is conspiring against us. Just know that with a little bit of grit and creativity, you’ll have a better chance of living your best life.
Readers, please share with me some examples of situations you found to be difficult or impossible, yet overcame with creativity and hustle.