I Love Problems – A Guide to Embracing Challenges

Since I began working in higher education, and this applies to pretty much any career field, I have noticed that there are constantly challenges to be tackled. Whether it’s student retention, high D/F/W rates in STEM classes, students not reading their emails or the ongoing student debt crisis – there are always problems that need solving. And honestly, I freaking love it. Here is why!

Problems are an opportunity

Problems for me are an opportunity to flex my creative muscles. In my spare time, I love being creative in the form of visual art. So much so that I completed an internship at an art studio last summer (10 hrs every weekend for three months and yes that was in addition to my full-time hustle in higher ed). I just really need a creative outlet. This is why I love new challenges because I can come up with innovative ways to solve them. Perhaps not so much on the big scale of how to solve the student debt crisis – I’d be rich if I had the answer for that. But more on the small yet still important scale – how to better engage our students or how to connect them to resources for example. And really these smaller scale challenges feed into the bigger picture. So, no matter how big or small, problems are an opportunity to look at things from a new perspective and to contribute to the solving of the world’s bigger issues.

Problems offer a gateway to collaboration

If there is one thing I’ve learned by working in higher ed is that no challenge is ever overcome alone. My first thought when a problem arises is, “Who can help with this?”. There is such a vast amount of knowledge out there in the form of our fellow higher education professionals and we cannot afford to let that go to waste. And I’m not just talking about your coworker who works two doors down from you. I’m talking about interdepartmental, interinstitutional, get-out-of-your-office, adult-style networking! I have made some of the best connections by asking others for their ideas and input.

Problems are a great excuse to travel

Oh yea, I’m talking about conferences. Ya girl loves herself some conferences (especially if my employer is paying for it…). But seriously, look at your institution’s mission statement. Perhaps retention is a big goal. And maybe at the next conference there are some workshops that are geared towards retention efforts. And just by chance, you’ve been wanting to contribute to solving this particular challenge. Do you see where I am going with this? Wanting to educate yourself on how to best help your institution through, you guessed it, problem solving, is a great excuse to put in that funding request and go to a conference. Going to conferences also helps with the aforementioned point of collaboration, something higher education cannot seem to get enough of, by offering the space to make connections.

Problems are your ticket to the top

Imagine there was a challenge, the solution to which you contributed via your creativity, ingenuity, collaborative skills and commitment to the betterment of your institution. Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it? You know who else thinks so? Your supervisor. And if you look good, they look good. Your commitment to and fearlessness in facing challenges are sure to impress the higher-ups and put your name high on the list of employees in desperate need of a promotion (and that coveted pay raise – Target here I come!).


Honestly, as cheesy as this will sound, problems are really just opportunities. Opportunities for growth and development. So the next time this kind of opportunity comes your way, don’t shy away from it but take advantage instead! Is there a time a challenge came your way and you faced it head on? Share your story in the comments.

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