Posted on Jun 20th, 2006

As a coach, I often have new clients start off by sharing what they perceive as problems by beginning a statement with: "Jim, the problem is …" or "See, my problem with …" (Do you know people who begin their statements with these phrases? Lemme guess — they ALWAYS seem to have lots of problems, don’t they?)

Whenever I hear this as an opening gambit, I immediately halt their attempt to get into some long-winded "whine-fest" by saying forcefully, "EXCUSE ME — you don’t have a problem, only a situation … would you like to know the difference?"

They are usually taken aback at such abrupt rudeness on my part, but I’m intentionally interrupting a useless thought pattern — that of thinking about the inevitable challenges of life as problems. The online dictionary has this definition of the word problem: "an intricate unsettled question; a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation." And I don’t want my clients to reflexively think that anything they’re dealing with cannot be relatively easily overcome with the proper attitude combined with clear thinking.

When they answer yes to my question, I share the story of my friend Laszlo Nagy. Laszlo was the stockbroker in my Business Networking Group. In June of 2002, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. I visited him several times in the rehabilitation hospital shortly after he arrived there. With his head in a halo brace, his body swollen from trauma, and his Darth Vader–like speech wheezing through a respirator, it was not a pretty sight.

Subsequent to the accident, Laszlo’s finances were totally drained by burgeoning medical bills. Under the continual financial and personal strain, his wife decided she could no longer hang in there with him and filed for divorce. In 2004, Laszlo had a pacemaker installed in his diaphragm muscle (the same operation that the late actor Christopher Reeve had) to help his lungs work without external stimulation, and he spent the next seven weeks relearning to breathe.

I then say to my clients, "So, LASZLO has a PROBLEM — YOU only have a SITUATION … GOT IT?" It’s AMAZING after that how quickly people catch themselves. When they start to say, "I’ve got this problem …" they quickly go, "OOPS! I mean, I’ve got this situation …" So the point is well taken.

By the way, the most surprising revelation in my conversations with Laszlo over the past few years is when he one day confided in me, "Y’know Jim — in some ways this accident is THE BEST THING that’s ever happened to me." And perhaps even more amazing, Laszlo does NOT think he has a problem! A challenging situation? Yes, unquestionably. But in his mind it’s definitely surmountable, which he demonstrates on a daily basis at a level I can only imagine.

So the next time YOU think you’ve got a PROBLEM … take pause … it’s probably only a situation.

Jim Rohrbach, "The Personal Fitness Trainer for Your Business," has coached hundreds of business owners, entrepreneurs, and sales professionals on growing their clientele. He is a featured contributor to, a daily ezine for Financial Advisors, and writes the Coach’s Corner column in Nightingale-Conant’s AdvantEdge magazine.

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