Solving big problems with small but steady steps Print
Youth Column
Written by Karen Osborne, Catholic News Service   
Thursday, Feb. 04, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

I have a problem. This weekend, the skies opened up and dumped a record amount of snow on my city. Yesterday afternoon, I spent two futile hours attempting to excavate my car.

As the sun set behind the row of brick houses across the street, I panicked. There was so much snow still left to go, and I was freezing! What if I couldn't get to work? What would happen if I missed band practice? What about the grocery store? I wanted to go inside and hide, like an ostrich sticking its head into the sand.

One of my friends calls that feeling "overwhelm," and we all experience it at some point. It's when there are so many problems in our lives, real or perceived, that we don't think we can handle them. Cue the panic!

But ignoring problems does not make them go away. My car's still buried, no matter how warm and toasty I am indoors.

Over the weekend, I watched The Martian, a really neat movie about an astronaut who uses his knowledge of science to survive being stranded on Mars. He is hit with one deadly crisis after another, but he doesn't panic. Instead, he "gets to work," as he says. He solves his problems one at a time.

It doesn't happen overnight, but it happens.

At the end of the movie, addressing a set of astronaut candidates, he says: "Solve enough problems and you get to go home."

That's a lesson for those of us stuck underneath our metaphorical snowdrifts, feeling stressed and overwhelmed and buried. All of the exams, all of the studying, trying to have a social life, trying to get into college, trying to wear the right clothes and be somebody. Being a teen can be incredibly stressful!

But you don't have to solve your problems all at once, or hide. You don't have to let your problems win.

Start somewhere. Make progress -- just a little progress -- and you'll notice your outlook improving. If you're overwhelmed with too much homework from all your classes, don't let it make you feel nervous. Pick an easy place to start, like a chapter in a book, or a set of math problems. Once you have a few wins under your belt, tackle the hard stuff. It gets easier.

Break things down into easy-to-finish portions. Don't think about the big research project as one big giant monster that has to be done in one weekend. Instead, break it down into phases: research first, write information on notecards, then write a first draft and then a final copy. Give yourself reasonable deadlines. Before you know it, you'll be finished.

Don't procrastinate. It feels good to put off difficult tasks -- up until the night before it's due! But getting things done on schedule or early will calm the feeling of being overwhelmed, and when you're done, the fun times will be sweeter.

If you don't like how you look, don't change everything all at once. Make small changes, one at a time, such as a new pair of sneakers or a new kind of lip gloss. Live with the change for a while. These incremental changes will be more likely to stick and make you feel more yourself than an expensive new wardrobe.

Face your problems, one at a time. As for me, I have 12 hours of sunlight today and a ton of snow to move with the help of shovel and the strength in my hands. It's a problem. But now I know how to deal with this problem, so it's going to be OK.

Karen Osborne contributes to “Coming of Age,” a CNS column series for and about youth. She is a staff writer for the Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y..


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