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Workarounds: One Simple Key to Greatness

I want to share with you a powerful "workaround that works" to improving your life, a simple yet effective approach for overcoming anything that appears to be in your way.
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Last week, I asked "Are You Choosing Greatness or Just Settling For The Crumbs?" Today, I would like to share a few more ideas that can help you overcome what gets in the way of having the life you want.

Indeed, each of us has been confronted with difficult circumstances and unattractive choices. You probably did not "choose" this economy, the lost job, the shattered bank account. And yet, here you are. The only choice you really have is what you will do to work around whatever is holding you back.

Much like the sailor who loses her mast in a storm, you can bemoan your fate, or you can come up with a "workaround," a "jury-rigged" temporary mast that will at least get you going again. While it may not be a perfect solution, at least you are moving again. Sometimes the path from crumbs to your version greatness is simply a question of finding that temporary solution, something that at least gets you moving.

My new book, "Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work," addresses this question in a number of work-related circumstances, ranging from overwhelming workloads and meaningless meetings to uncooperative people, misaligned silos and broken systems. In this article, I want to share with you a powerful "workaround that works" to improving your life, a simple yet effective approach for overcoming anything that appears to be in your way.

That workaround is a simple question: "What can I do that would make a difference in my life that requires no one's permission other than my own?"

Of course, the value of that question is relative to your willingness to simply ask the question in the first place. Now, if you don't want to change anything, if you would rather wallow in the hopelessness of the economy and blame politicians, bankers, and just about anyone else for your predicament, that's your choice. But if you want to find a workaround that will get you moving again, read on.

How You Frame the Problem Is the Problem

Last week, I suggested that an important key to overcoming life's challenges lies in how you frame the problem. If you frame the problem as impossible, then you won't find many choices to help. If you frame the problem as the economy, the politicians, the bankers, etc., you won't find much you can do.

The article suggested that you can choose to move from crumbs to greatness simply by your willingness to take those first steps.

BrooklynCitizen echoed a sentiment held my many when writing:

While all this is valuable we keep stressing the individual as if all their choices actually allowed control over their life. We can at best guide our lives but certainly not control it. Also what is not mentioned is the role other people play in our greatness. Behind every great life is a great support system; no one does anything alone and if they live this way they will fall short of greatness.

BrooklynCitizen was so close to getting the idea, and then fell into a somewhat common misperception that obscures the point. That misperception? That the game of life is about controlling something outside your own self.

The one thing that you can control is something most people ignore as though it were meaningless and insignificant: you may not control what happens in your life, but you do control how you respond to what happens. Regardless of the situation, you always have a choice about how you respond, about the choices you make next. The choices may not seem all that great, but if you don't make the ones available, you have no chance at finding your version of greatness.

The challenge is that simply making a choice, even the best one available in the moment, rarely vaults you from crumbs to greatness. However, that one forward-moving choice, no matter how small and apparently inconsequential, may be the choice that puts you on the path to greatness.

Viktor Frankl's incredible story of surviving Nazi concentration camps involved his startling realization that freedom was the experience he had just after the Nazis did something to him and just before he chose how he would respond. That freedom to choose his response was the one thing the Nazis could not take from him, and so it enabled him to remain in a position of control -- not much control, mind you, but enough that he was able to endure through the incredible agony and horrific circumstances to which he was apparently doomed.

Did his choice about how to respond make a difference in his life? Sure did. Did it change his circumstances? Not so much. But did it make a positive difference? Beyond all measure, because the choice to remain resolute in his own inner experience allowed him to survive and to eventually thrive.

Remember, positive thinking just doesn't work, at least not all by itself. Positive action works. But how do you take a positive action step without first having a positive thought? You can use this one simple question to put you on the path of discovering your own workarounds for whatever is blocking your path.

There's more to the puzzle, to be sure. However, no matter where you find yourself, there's always some little step you take that will begin to move you forward.

How about you? What choices could you make that would put you on a path to overcoming whatever is in the way?

I would love to hear from you about your ideas, about how you have chosen in the past or what you are focusing on as you look ahead.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)

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