Do you find yourself complaining at the dinner table about the obstacles you can’t get over or how no one listens to you at work? Do you complain about your boss not taking action to help you? Do your conversations with co-workers and any family member who will listen turn into bitch sessions? Where’s your promotion? Where’s your raise?

If this sounds familiar, maybe the problem is you. The fastest road to getting what you want and need to thrive is to resolve your own problems. Yes, maybe you’re busy with your actual job and maybe you don’t have time to do someone else’s job, but those are excuses. If what you want and need to thrive is something you can fix yourself, then do it.

If your problem is a process: Fix it. Other people are probably struggling with the process as well. Maybe you don’t own it, but if it affects you, it’s your responsibility to make it better. I like the instructions for hikers: Leave it better than you found it.

If your problem is a person: Have it out with the person in question. Keep it unemotional and fact based. Approach this conversation as you would a business presentation. State your case why things aren’t working well and what he or she can do to help you work it out. This is difficult, but can be very worthwhile. The worst thing you can do is sit back and complain about this person to your co-workers, putting them in an awkward position of having to choose sides, which creates a dangerous and poisonous atmosphere at work. No one wants that, so don’t be the cause of it. Be honest, be brave and give it to him or her straight.

If your problem is too much work: Instead of letting that pile of work overwhelm you, make lists of attainable goals and stick to your deadlines. Eliminate distractions and plow through your to-do list. Save all that energy you spent complaining and focus it on getting things done. You’ll be a happier and more productive team member if you do — I promise. If there is still too much to do, then your problem is really one of these others, either the direction of the company, a process or a person. Deal with it head on.

If your problem is overall disagreement with the direction of your company: Speak your mind to the highest level person you can. But don’t just walk in with a litany of complaints. This is a busy person. If you have a legitimate argument for how things should be done differently, put time and effort into preparing for this conversation. Bring evidence that’s unbiased and not personal. If, after you have stated your case and are unsatisfied with the results, you know you’ve done your best and it may be time to look for a new position. If you leave without doing so, you will never know if you could have made the game-winning difference at that company.

But Cara? Sometimes whining works! Yeah, sometimes it gets you your immediate goal–I know I’ve given in to my kids inappropriately after excessive whining, just to get a moment of peace. But wouldn’t you rather have the accomplishment of solving your own problems? My favorite answer when one of my kids complains about something is “well, what are you going to do about it?”

Ken Watanabe at the Huffington Post explains the importance of problem solving:

It’s important to realize that being a problem solver isn’t just an ability; it’s a whole mind-set, one that drives people to bring out the best in themselves and to shape the world in a positive way. Rather than accepting the status quo, true problem solvers are constantly trying to proactively shape their environment. Imagine how different our world would be if leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, JFK, and Steve Jobs lacked this attitude.

And in case, you’re not yet convinced, here are some really cool people who didn’t whine and solved their own problems:

John Walsh

In 1979, John Walsh was a partner in a hotel management company that built high-end luxury hotels. That year his son, Adam, was kidnapped and murdered. Walsh was consumed by rage and grief. Then, remarkably, he managed to find inspiration in his worst nightmare. Walsh crusaded for new laws to protect missing and exploited children and their families. After successfully campaigning to enact two federal laws, he created a TV program, America’s Most Wanted, which has helped bring over 1,000 kidnappers to justice. He also created a line of instructional DVDs to promote child safety and a variety of related products. By Steven Berglas of Forbes


Kim Constantinesco

Snowboarder/entrepreneur/writer, Kim Constantinesco takes problem solving to a whole new level, including getting back to snowboarding after literally breaking her neck. Patti Putnicki writes in Sports Illustrated’s Inspired By Others and Her Own Near Tragedy a Snowboarder Steps Up:

There is a certain rush to overcoming your fears and not surrendering to life. Otherwise, you surrender to your fears.”

Solving problems not only gets you off your complaint merry-go-round, but also makes you feel more accomplished and happy with yourself. And, don’t forget your poor family members. Do it for them too.

About Monday Matters: Monday morning is a great time to think about some big picture strategy. You’re hopefully rested from the weekend and ready to come out swinging. Don’t waste this glorious freshness on your in-box. Before you get into your tactical to-do list for the week, take this moment to pause and think about strategy.


Photo by Duncan via Flickr Commons