Every Problem Has A Solution

That was something I said to somebody today. I made a joke, something to do with finding a boyfriend who can cook, and how that would solve all of her problems. And every problem has a solution. Then I thought about it for a minute and decided it was actually some decent wisdom.


When I was young I took on math problems as challenges which I always knew had some solution. I believed there was no problem I couldn't solve. One day in middle school during homeroom my math teacher gave a problem to the top students of the school, who were a year older than I was. He said that it was a math problem given to him by one of his former students who went on and graduated from Harvard. He wanted to see if they could solve it, since it could be solved with basic geometry. Overhearing this, I decided to give it a shot. All of the older students gave up after trying for several minutes without any luck. I couldn't solve it either. At least not right away. I knew there was a solution, and that I could figure it out. Six months later, I finally solved the problem. Afterwards, word got out among the teachers, and they gave the problem to the high school geometry teacher. He was unable to solve it. A few years later I found out that I was known among the high school faculty as "the kid who solved the problem the teacher couldn't solve." This experience taught me a few things:

1. It's not about IF things will happen. It's about WHEN. 
Problem solving was not a question of whether or not I could do it.  I knew that with time and persistence, I would eventually find the solution. Just because I couldn't solve the problem in the first few minutes, hours, even months, didn't mean I could never solve it. The same type of mindset convinced me that I could become a designer. I did not know how long it would take me to learn how to be a designer, but I knew deep down that I could, given years of training.  Give me 10 years, of course I could probably be decent at anything. Sometimes people set goals and give up when it doesn't come true right away. I always think, it might not happen now, but what if I gave you 10 years? Do you still believe your goal is impossible?

2. After you have set and accomplished your goals, your victories will always be with you.
I've gotten to know that many people crave recognition and need others to view them as smart, or good at something. It's natural to be motivated by recognition. I used to receive a lot of recognition since I was very young. But eventually I realized that it wasn't the recognition, and hearing people tell me that I was smart, that gave me confidence. The confidence came whenever I had personally invested myself into a goal, and accomplishing that goal that made me feel fulfilled. It is those personal victories that give you that spurt of confidence and motivation. This still happens to me now as a designer. When there is a problem in the design that I have to resolve and I finally resolve it, I feel that same sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, others will not recognize or understand how difficult it was to figure out, and you won't get the same enthusiastic reaction you were hoping for, but these personal victories are important to keep feeling fulfilled while being in a stressful environment where you are constantly pushing to learn and improve. In design especially, the best solutions are unnoticed, and seem effortless. A designer often has to do without the recognition, yet still know on the inside that they've come up with a great solution.

3. Every problem has a solution.
In math, yes there are problems with "no solution", but even then, figuring out and proving why there is no solution, is a solution in itself. In design, business, and personal relationships, I believe there's always a solution out there. Sometimes I realize my biggest obstacle is simply laziness or fear of risk and the unknown. When I am stressed out with problems, I tell myself to think about it as a game, and look at situation objectively before making irrational decisions. The outcomes of any decisions you make will often affect many different facets of life. Sometimes if I decide it is important, I might spend a long time to figure out a win-win situation. For example, months before graduation from Johns Hopkins my mother had been in the hospital. I was on the east coast, and I decided I needed to go back to California somehow to be with my family. I also needed to figure out what to do with my career. I did not want to be climbing ladders and being stuck in a job I didn't like for the rest of my life, I wanted to do something creative. I found out that one of the top design schools in the nation was only a couple of miles from the house I grew up in, and after thinking about it for months I formulated a new career plan for myself while giving myself the opportunity to move back home.

I get stressed over money, work, and people just like everyone else. But sometimes the lessons I learned from my experiences growing up help me regain my balance and figure out how to get through those tough situations. Every once in a while I still try to remind myself: be confident, think things through calmly, and things will eventually turn out ok.

Nelson Wah