Great advice about work from Einstein

“Can you tell me the work that I should do?”

For work, like so many of life’s biggest challenges, there is a deep desire for the answer to be quick and easy.

Attached to that desire is a buried thought inside of us that we missed something or somebody else knows the answer better. 

After looking at the problem for many years and from many angles, I believe our bewilderment about work is because of how we look at the situation. Or don’t.

I read a quote some time ago that helped me look at this in a different way.

The quote has been attributed to Einstein though it seems there is some question about who actually said it. Still, I believe Einstein would have been the perfect person to give us a good view on problem solving.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.”

Really? 92% of the time considering a problem?

We want the answer and he is suggesting we hold off?

When we are stymied about being in work that sucks and how to find one that doesn’t, the desire to find a solution is intense. We want the answer. We want it now.

Humans are great at finding solutions. In a way we are problem solving machines! Try an experiment when you have a dilemma and ask people what to do.

I have done this from time to time. I get many different ideas, often ones I would never have considered.

Which is great. Except.

Except often we don’t really know what the problem is.

I’ll give you an example.

I met with a young man who was new to town; his first question to me was, “Can you tell me where there are job openings in town?”

I immediately thought of the sign I read in a window that morning. “There is a dishwashing position at the deli.” 

His shoulders fell. He stopped smiling. 

Clearly, not the solution he wanted.

How he was looking at the problem is that he was broke and needed money as soon as possible. And he thought job postings was the solution. If it was, the dishwashing position would have solved the problem.

What if – he was asking the wrong question?

On some level, even though he wasn’t saying it, the problem was more complex. He had a dream which brought him to this town, a dream of living close to nature and getting strong. As he started thinking more, he understood his dream was all about experiencing joy. 

After we talked about the idea that 20% of jobs are ever posted and employers are looking for a good fit, he understood his response to the dishwasher position. 

He would have been a terrible fit! 

He could also see that the problem was so much more than getting money as soon as possible. 

The problem was he had no idea of how to find the right fit. He didn’t even think that way. Up to then, his thinking was – get a job and hopefully it works out. That’s how he knew dishwashing wasn’t for him. He had done it before.

The story is familiar. Jumping onto a solution before really understanding the problem takes us down strange side roads. 

And like Einstein (or whoever) implied, we don’t spend enough time thinking about the problem. 

That is especially true when we are thinking about our work. If we think of it as a problem, it needs to have 55 out of 60 minutes of our time before we can even begin looking at the solution. 

What does this mean? It means looking at some age-old questions.

2.       Who are you?

Gaining a good understanding of your uniqueness, your strengths, your gifts and talents is the best starting point. You like working with people. How can you imagine that? One-on-one? In groups? Selling? It helps to get specific. There is a reason why career exploration programs begin with the first step – Know Yourself.

2.       How do you want to spend your brief time you have on this planet?

Getting in touch with your desires and what you care about is where the spark resides. This is what will get you up and keep you going on those days when life feels draggy. Knowing your spark will also connect you with your tribe and workplace where you will feel understood. And it so happens that spark is what employers are looking for, too.

3.        What is your purpose?

What is important enough that you want to be committed to? Your purpose can be one that extends your entire lifetime. More likely it will change. When I became a mother, it became quite clear to me what my purpose was: do whatever I could to help these people soar. After my children were launched, my purpose shifted. That time in between was a time of soul searching and asking myself a lot of questions. If you are going through a transition, know that it is a rich and fertile time even though it may feel like the rug has been wrenched away.

4.       What makes you feel alive? 

Know what invigorates you and makes you jump out of the bed in the morning. This is always connected to your strengths. Once you get clear about your strengths, this is the time to get some ideas from others. Leading a conversation with your strengths and then asking for any ideas that would help you allows the recipient to be creative in their responses to you.  They may have a thought about a job opening or they may know a person who might be a connection for you. Or other gems to invigorate your quest.

5.       How can I help?

People want to help. One of the key pillars of having a life with meaning according to Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters is transcendence. Transcendence is having a deep connection with others and everything else in the world. That connection happens through our contributions to each others’ lives. When you ask yourself how you can help, your own life feels more meaningful.

These questions are great starting places for defining the problem. What has happened to me by considering my problem in a deeper way is I have seen that what I thought was the problem was not at all.

I think there is a reason that the quote resonated with me. When I have got a clear picture of my problem, the solution has come easier and faster. 

I am all for efficiency.