Turning problems into opportunities

When you start overcoming challenges, you become more able to overcome other challenges. You strengthen your mind, because you’re telling it that you won’t give up. When you overcome a challenge, you come out stronger and tougher than before. You develop mental toughness through these challenges—not through life being easy.

This is where turning problems into opportunities comes in. Problems are chances to become stronger, smarter, faster, more agile, better. If you don’t encounter challenges, you won’t test your own skills and abilities, and you won’t improve. So when you encounter a problem, see it as an opportunity to develop a new skill, gain more knowledge, do something better than before.

If you want to reach the heights of success, life won’t be all picnics. If it is, then you’re not aiming high enough. When life starts throwing difficulties your way, you’re on your way to the top. The higher you want to get, the more difficult the challenges. This is about your mindset. You need to make the decision to see problems as opportunities.

Turning problems into opportunities requires perseverance. It’s trying to exceed your limits, pushing through the pain, and fighting through lack of focus. It’s about pushing your own limits—this is what mental toughness requires. It’s not easy, and it’s not supposed to be. If you avoid problems, or give up when you encounter them, you won’t succeed. But if you put in the effort to fight through the problems, you’ll achieve your goals.

Overcoming the situation

If you don’t believe me, there are many famous examples of people overcoming problems through persistence. A great example is basketball legend Michael Jordan. Michael loved basketball as a kid, but was always losing to his brother. He was rejected for his high school basketball team. But he was determined to succeed. Every morning, he lifted weights and practised his skills. At the end of the summer, he was one of the best high school players and got a place at uni. He was drafted for the Chicago Bulls and became an NBA champion and MVP multiple times, as well as an Olympic gold medallist, and many more accolades.

Throughout this, he experienced failures, injuries, and loses. He knew how many times he’d missed a shot and how many games he’d lost. He failed numerous times, but always got back up again. He practised, practised, and practised some more. And he accounts his success to this mentality of never giving up. Despite encountering problems, he always got back up and kept trying.

 

How do I know about problems?

 

I know this because when I was young, my parents went to work every day, even when they were exhausted, even when they were ill. My dad worked in his shop, and my mum worked at the local hospital. It was tough back then to run your own business, post-communism, in Poland. But no matter what happened, my parents would say “When a situation knocks you down, get back up.” As a child, I learned that this was mental toughness meant.

If you knock me down, I will get back up. Despite going through problems, my parents were first role models in life, and they taught me to be mentally tough. They didn’t say “give up when it gets difficult”. My mum sent me to learn English for a few years, and I knew she was paying for my lessons, so I didn’t want to let her down. I wanted to learn English because I knew it would help me succeed in life, but I found it so difficult to learn—it’s really nothing like Polish. I was determined to learn it.

The school was also tough—and the teachers purposely ensured we would fail. They didn’t make us fail permanently, but enough to teach us mental toughness. If we failed a test or didn’t do our homework, we did it until we got it right. One day, during an exam, I was really struggling. I was exhausted and couldn’t focus. One of my teachers came over and said, “Are you going to give up or are you going to get up?” Suddenly, I was focused and I completed the exam.

The teacher was my second role model—she was tough, never gave up, never quit. Every time I got my English lessons, I said to myself “How tough are you?”. I became determined to keep improving. Every day, I analysed what could I do better the next day. I was going to try harder and keep doing that every time. I saw my parents doing it. I was going to do it too.

After two years of lessons, I had my final exam. My parents were excited and believed that I would pass. I failed. I was the only one of twelve students who failed! I was devastated, I couldn’t believe it, and cried to my mum that I let her down. She had worked hard to pay all the bills, to feed me, and pay for lessons, and I had failed. I lost faith in my ability, and I lost my confidence. I thought I would never be able to stand up on my own two feet and get a good job. Not being able to pass the English exam felt like a massive, insurmountable problem.

But after a few months, I decided to turn my failure into an opportunity for success. I applied for a work experience position in a hotel in Scotland. I didn’t have to demonstrate my level of English or do any tests, I just needed industry experience. So I told my parents I was going to Scotland, and in September 2004, I flew to Glasgow. I worked and lived in a small village near Helensburgh.

It was tough, as I didn’t know nobody. I did nothing but work. I was an only child from a big city in a small place, from a different culture, and I was on my own, without being able to speak good English. What’s more, it was hard to improve my English without having anyone to speak to. It could have defeated me, but I was determined to succeed. I could have just packed my bags and gone back to Poland, but I didn’t.

In my head, I could hear my teacher’s voice, “If you want to learn to speak English, go and learn it. If you want to be fluent in any language, go and prove it. Life isn’t easy, but you never quit. Never. You may not have been the best, but you can always give your best”. So I turned the problem of having nothing to do into the opportunity to self-study on my days off, then I practised what I’d learned at work.

This combination helped me progress and learn English faster. My time in Scotland was tough, but it was worth it. Every day I practised, working hard to learn the language, and every day I improved, despite my difficult circumstances. Looking back, I realise that this was the real test for me, not the exam I had failed—because this test made me truly mentally tough. It made me not give up. I persisted, despite the problems, despite lack of confidence in my abilities, despite being on my own. I pushed past my own limits. I became confident. So believe me when I say it’s possible, because I’ve proved that it’s possible.