Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Three easy ways to make your problem worse

Copyright Paul Glazzard (Creative Commons)

Recently my two oldest kids were playing in the front yard when my 6-year-old daughter came up the stairs. “Daddy, Daddy, come see Elijah climbing the tree!”

Our front yard is small—maybe 500 square feet. There aren’t any climbable trees, so Izzy’s exclamation brought curiosity. Hurrying outside, I found Elijah almost 10 feet up a birch that sits right at the edge of the property. The limb he stood on hung out over the boundary fence that sits 20 feet above the road below. Were he to fall, 30 feet and some concrete awaited him.

I quickly got him out of the tree and told him the birch was off-limits. He was disappointed. I could see that “Eve in the garden” look in his 5-year-old eyes. My parent senses told me he would be in that tree the moment I turned my head.

I had a problem.

Good thing I am a problem-solver. I grabbed a rope from the garage and strung it up in the tree. A rope swing, I thought, would keep him distracted from the death tree.

After five minutes, the problem was solved. Elijah was happily preoccupied with the rope swing and I was relaxing inside.


A scream rose from the garden—the kind every parent recognizes. I met Izzy on the stairs as I rushed to the yard. “Elijah hurt himself!” Horrific images flashed through my mind. Broken bones. A trip to the ER. Blood. Elijah was laying at the base of the tree holding his side. The rope had swung him into the tree—the death tree.

Problem worse.

Picking him up and wiping the dirt from his clothes, I examined his side. The bark had scratched him pretty badly but all his ribs were whole. Play time was over, the birch had won.

Sometimes, we solve one problem only to create another. And the second problem is often worse than the first. That is what I learned from the death-tree.

Here are three easy steps you can apply to any problem to make it worse:

1) Panic

Freak out. Everything is lost. This problem will bury you. Forget that everyone attempting to accomplish something important will face problems. Forget that obstacles are natural agents in the growth of people, organizations, and movements. Forget that problems are often the sign that you are moving in the right direction.

Throw in the towel. Wave the white flag. Consider giving up.

2) Change

While panicking, make a rash decision. Because all is lost, any change will do. The ship is sinking, save yourself. No need to think through the consequences of your choice or the timing of the change. Do something immediately.

Do the first thing that comes to your mind, including resigning, retiring, or firing.

3) Repeat

When the first two steps don’t solve your problem—or create more problems—just repeat the process. You can do it right this time. Panic more. Make the change more dramatic. That should fix it.

What problems are you facing? How can you respond in a way that doesn’t create more? Let me know below.

About Josh