The Most Common Human Challenges

  • Fear and Insecurity
  • I Want It Now
  • Blame and Victimisation
  • Hopelesness
  • Lack of Life Balance
  • What’s In It For Me
  • The Hunger To Be Understood
  • Conflict and Differences

One of the most profound learnings of my life is this: if you want to achieve your highest aspirations and overcome your greatest challenges, identify and apply the principle or natural law that governs the results you seek. How we apply a principle will vary greatly and will be determined by our unique strengths, talents, and creativity, but, ultimately, success in any endeavour is always derived from acting in harmony with the principles to which the success is tied.

Many people do not think this way, at least consciously. In fact, you will increasingly find that principled solutions stand in stark contrast to the common practices and thinking of our popular culture. Allow me to illustrate this contrast with a few of the most common human challenges we face.


So many people today are gripped with a sense of fear. They fear for the future, they feel vulnerable in the workplace. They are afraid of losing their jobs and their ability to provide for their families. This vulnerability often fosters a resignation to riskless living and co-dependency with others at work and at home. Our cultures common response to this problem is to become more and more independent. “I’m going to focus on me and mine.” “I’ll do my job, do it well, and get on to my real joys off the job.” Independence is an important, even vital, value and achievement. The problem is, we live in an interdependent reality, and our most important accomplishments require interdependency skills well beyond our present abilities.


People want things and want them now. “I want money. I want a nice big house, a nice car, the biggest and best entertainment center. I want it all and I deserve it.” Though today’s “credit card” society makes it easy to “get now and pay later,” economic realities eventually set in, and we are reminded, sometimes painfully, that our purchases cannot outstrip our ongoing ability to produce.

Pretending otherwise is unsustainable. The demands of interest are unrelenting and unforgiving. Even working hard is not enough. With the dizzying rate of change in technology and increasing competition driven by the globalization of markets and technology, we must not only be educated, we must constantly re-educate and reinvent ourselves. We must develop our minds and continually sharpen and invest in the development of our competencies to avoid becoming obsolete.

At work, the bosses drive results and for good reason. Competition is fierce; survival is at stake. The need to produce today is today’s reality and represents the demands of capital, but the real mantra of success is sustainability and growth. You may be able to meet your quarterly numbers, but the real question is, are you making the necessary investment that will sustain and increase that success one, five, and ten years from now?

Our culture and Wall Street scream for results today. But the principle of balancing the need to meet today’s demands with the need to invest in the capabilities that will produce tomorrow’s success is unavoidable. The same is true of your health, your marriage, your family relationships, and your community needs.


Wherever you find a problem, you’ll usually find the finger-pointing of blame, society is addicted to playing the victim. “If only my teacher taught well… If only I hadn’t born so poor… If only I lived in a better place… If only I hadn’t inherited such a temper from my dad/mum… If only my kids weren’t so rebellious… If only we weren’t in such a declining industry… If only my wife/husband was more understanding… if only our people weren’t so lazy and without drive.” Blaming everyone and everything else for our own problems and challenges may be the norm and may provide temporary relief from the pain, but it also chain us to these very problems. Show me someone who is humble enough to accept and take responsibility for his or her circumstances and courageous enough to take whatever initiative is necessary to creatively work his or her way through or around these challenges, and I’ll show you the supreme power of choice.


The children of blame are cynicism and hopelessness. When we succumb to believing that we are victims of our circumstances and yield to the plight of determinism, we lose hope, we lose drive, and we settle into resignation and stagnation. “I am a pawn, a puppet, a cog in the wheel and can do nothing about it. Just tell me what to do.” So many bright, talented people feel this and suffer the broad range of discouragement and depression that follows. The survival response of popular culture is cynicism- “just lower your expectations of life to the point that you aren’t disappointed by anyone or anything.” The contrasting principle of growth and hope throughout history is the discovery that “I am the creative force of my life.”


Life in our cell phone society is increasingly complex, demanding, stressful, and absolutely exhausting. For all our efforts to manage our time, do more, be more, and achieve greater efficiency through the wonders of modern technology, why is it we increasingly find ourselves in the “thick of thin things” subordinating health,  family, integrity, and many of the things that matter most to our work? The problem is not our work, which is the sustaining engine of life. It’s not the complexity or change. The problem is that our modern culture says, “go in earlier, stay later, be more efficient, live with the sacrifice for now – but the truth is that balance and peace of mind are not produced by these; they follow the person who develops a clear sense of his or her highest priorities and who lives with focus and integrity toward them.


Our culture teaches us that if we want something in life, we have to “look out for number one”. It says, “Life is a game, a race, a competition and you better win it”. Schoolmates, work colleagues, even family members are seen as competitors – the more they win the less there is for you. Of course we try to appear generous and cheer for others successes, but inwardly, privately, so many of us are eating our hearts out when others achieve. Many of the great things in the history of civilization have been achieved by the independent will of a determined soul. But the greatest opportunities and boundless accomplishments of the Knowledge Worker Age are reserved for those who master the art of ‘we.’ True greatness will be achieved through the abundant mind that works selflessly – with mutual respect, for mutual benefit.


Few needs of the human heart are greater than the need to be understood- to have a voice that is heard, respected, and valued- to have influence. Most believe that the key to influence is communication- getting your point across clearly and speaking persuasively. In fact, if you think about it, don’t you find that, while others are speaking to you, instead of really listening to understand, you are often busy preparing your response? The real beginning of influence comes as others sense you are being influenced by them- when they feel understood by you- that you have listened deeply and sincerely, and that you are open. But most people are too vulnerable emotionally to listen deeply- to suspended their agenda long enough to focus on understanding before they communicate their own ideas. Our culture cries out for, even demands, understanding and influence. However, the principle of influence is governed by mutual understanding born of the commitment of at least one person to deep listening first.


People share so much in common, yet are so magnificently different. They think differently; they have different and sometimes competing values, motivations, and objectives. Conflicts naturally arise out of these differences. Society’s competitive approach to resolving the conflict and differences tends to center on “winning as much as you can.” Though much good has come from the skilful art of compromise, where both sides give on their positions until an acceptable middle point is reached, neither side ends up truly pleased. What a waste to have differences drive people to the lowest common denominator between them! What a waste to fail to unleash the principle of creative cooperation in developing solutions to problems that are better than either party’s original notion!

Excerpt from Stephen R Covey – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s