Problems and Opportunitites

When I was young and counting on the forces of luck for some fortunate outcome my dad used to tell me, “Don’t worry sis. It will all work out. It may not work out the way you want it to, but it will work out.” It seemed like I heard it a lot. It helped me, at least for a moment, consider that it would not be the end of the world if I did not get my way. As an adult when I hear my father’s voice echo those words in my head the context of adult experiences changes the meaning to suggest that I need to make whatever outcome work for me. One rather silly experience many years ago has colored Dad’s words in a way that helped me see the inherent opportunity embedded in his wisdom.

I was a ripe 18 years old when I was appointed to a board of directors for the first time. There were 14 of us, all college students, and all very young, even the returning students among us. We represented all public university students in the state in front of the legislature and other public bodies. We were from Monmouth, Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, Klamath Falls, La Grande, and Ashland. Our meetings took us to all these corners of the state. Over the course of a year we bonded very well. Though we had our disagreements, our intentional commitment to quality social time as an event that accompanied each business meeting helped us function as a team.

Our executive director announced she would be resigning her position at the end of the academic year, giving us time to search for a new ED who would transition with the new board. After a successful search, our ED looked forward to her last business meeting and her own transition on to a new phase of life.

At our final monthly ritual socializing the night before our final board meeting someone thought it might be fun to play a little joke on our executive leader, just so she remembered us with a smile. We decided that when we reviewed the agenda in the morning we would each add our pet issue as a discussion or action item. And for the one or two of us who did not have a pet issue to add, they would revive an idea that had previously received insufficient support to be taken up by our group. This would create the impression that instead of a routine meeting, we would have a never-ending, and potentially conflict-ridden, board meeting.

The next morning after we’d helped ourselves to coffee and taken our seats at the conference table overlooking the Klamath Basin, our chair called the meeting to order. As planned, during the review and call for any changes to the agenda, one of our colleagues raised his hand.

“I’d like to revisit the styrofoam issue. I don’t think we gave it adequate attention. The information we received from the industry was comprehensive, but we scarcely looked at it, and we never considered alternative viewpoints. It seems like we just dismissed it.”

And so it went. Each time there was a pause and it seemed there was nothing more to add another hand went up. “We really need to discuss the Violence Against Women Act today,” I added. “I am not really comfortable with where we left it. I think we need to consider escalated action.”

The agenda continued to grow. Our chair earnestly and seriously wrote down each new item, nodding in acknowledgement. Our ED dutifully noted each addition, her eyes opening just a bit wider with each new item. We were not yet complete in adding our 14 agenda items when she finally interjected, “Excuse me. We are going to have a problem here.”

Our colleague from La Grande signaled to speak. “We do not have a problem here,” he clarified with certainty in a stereotypical, well-enunciated, eastern Oregon drawl. “What we have here is a situation.” He brought down the house. At that point it was too much for us to keep up the show and we laughed ourselves to tears before we got more coffee, sat back down and started over.

It was just a goofy moment, but I’ve remembered those words from our friend from eastern Oregon ever since. Through time and experiences the word “situation” has been gradually replaced by “challenge” and later “opportunity.” When Greg’s student loan company illegally called his loan it was an opportunity to get them off our back once and for all. When our house purchase did not close on time leaving us without a place to live, with Dad’s help we had an opportunity to sort out what was most important to us in a home and force the bluff of an unscrupulous property owner. When the Crisis Line ran short by $50,000 one year it was an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities as an agency and support the staff in re-inventing the programs.

Sometimes it is difficult to see the opportunity in a situation, but it is always there. I now know that Dad’s confidence that, “it will work out,” means that the multiple paths from every crossroads leads to an opportunity. The onus is on me to put the pieces in place that will make an opportunity from what might otherwise be either simplistic good fortune or disappointment. Occasionally I have to spend a lot of time analyzing and reflecting on a situation to find the opportunity. I have no choice but to work within the constraints of whatever circumstances present themselves, so it is in my best interest to find a way to take advantage of any situation and get out of it what I want.

The world is not so rosy and easy. I don’t imagine that when Bouazizi set himself ablaze a year ago he was focused on the opportunity in his circumstances of poverty and oppression. But then, maybe it was an opportunity to take a stand and make a change that would begin to erode the injustice experienced by his brothers and sisters across the region. This situation is a reminder that sometimes it is better for things to work out to advance the greater good and improve circumstances for everyone, even if it might be at my expense personally.

These sentiments are just bumper sticker phrases, but I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of them, especially when I need to make decisions in the face of bleak circumstances. There is no reason to worry, because it will all work out. One way or the other, it is not a problem, just an opportunity.

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