The 5 Big Challenges in Life


John C. Maxwell

Successful people do not have less challenging lives than those who do not succeed. In fact, they may go through even greater challenges. What causes the separation? Successful people respond to difficulties differently.

It’s easy to have a great attitude when things are going our way. Attitude doesn’t become the difference maker until challenges arise. In this edition of Leadership Wired, we’ll look at “The Big 5,” a list of the top challenges experienced by leaders, and we’ll discuss steps to develop an appropriate attitude toward each challenge.


1. Discouragement

Over the course of my life, I’ve discovered that every leader gets discouraged. Plans fail, dreams drift out of range, or goals suffer setbacks. However, not every leader responds to discouragement the same way. Attitude dictates whether a discouraged leader will give up or get up.

Dealing Effectively With Discouragement

(1) Get the Right Perspective.

Seldom are circumstances as bad as they feel in the darkest moments. Try to put hard times in the proper perspective by distancing from them emotionally.

(2) See the Right People.

Relationships either build us up or tear us down. Leaders surround themselves with encouragers who lend support and lift the load.

(3) Say the Right Words.

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, says this in his excellent work, Spiritual Depression, It’s Cause and Cure: “Most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself rather than talking to yourself.” Thoughts stream into our minds beyond our control. Instead of succumbing to whichever thoughts happen to pop into our heads, we can purposefully fix our minds on the positive.

2. Problems

Just as every leader gets discouraged, so every leader runs into problems. When facing problems, adjusting your attitude can be a precursor to adjusting your situation. Remember: change on the outside always follows the change on the inside.

Principles for Handling Problems

(1) Define What A Problem Is

A problem is something I can do something about. If I cannot do something about a situation, it is a fact of life, not a problem.

(2) Anticipate Problems

A problem anticipated may be an opportunity, but a problem not anticipated is a simply a problem.

(3) Embrace Each Problem as a Potential Opportunity.

Problems are wake-up calls for creativity. They sharpen us by testing our reasoning and drawing out our creative juices.

3. Change

Change is an unavoidable and often unwelcome part of life. Change pushes us away from comfort by refusing to let us settle. By constantly forcing us to adapt, change sparks growth in our lives.

Coming to Terms with Change

(1) Determine that Change Will Be an Ongoing Part of Life.

Years ago, Alfred P. Sloan made the statement that the key to success in management does not lie in your ability to adjust to change; it lies in your ability to anticipate change. When we see change coming we can move along with it rather than being blindsided by it.

(2) Make a Commitment to Pay the Price for Change.

Along the journey, a leader must make sacrifices to stay abreast of change. If change doesn’t cost you, it’s not real change.

(3) Decide What You Are Not Willing to Change.

Leaders have a general openness to change, but they refuse to be swayed in their convictions such as faith, values, and family.

4. Fear

Fear has the ability to exaggerate itself and spread throughout our life. When fear grips us, we are frozen and incapable of action. Worrisome thoughts fill our mind with distractions, and we are powerless to be productive.

How to “Fix” Your Fears

(1) Discover the Foundation of Fear.

Fears are more often based on feelings than facts. To control fear, search for its underlying emotion. More often than not, you’ll find fear has no rational root.

(2) Accept Fear as the Price of Progress.

Whenever we venture into new territory, we are met with the fear of the unknown. We must be willing to step outside of our comfort zone and face the fear of the unfamiliar.

(3) Feed the Right Emotion, Starve the Wrong One.

Many times we cannot hope to avoid the emotion of fear. Despite our best efforts to have courage, fear settles into the pit of our stomach like a rock. We may never eliminate fear, but we can refuse to let it dominate. If we act according to hope and optimism, eventually our action will transform our emotions.

5. Failure

I have seen many leaders with self-sabotaging traits stemming from an unhealthy perspective toward failure.

Some leaders live with a nagging sense of impending failure. They don’t believe they are good enough to succeed, and sooner or later they fulfill their self-expectations of failure.

Other leaders refuse to take risks. By sticking to safe paths, they assure themselves of failing to have significant impact.

Still other leaders allow failures to derail them. They see failure as a personal indictment rather than a step in the ongoing process of their growth as a leader.

How to Profit From Failure

(1) Change Your Vocabulary.

Every good leader I’ve ever met has had the amazing ability to turn a setback into a springboard for greater effectiveness. In his book, Leaders on Leadership: Interviews with Top Executives, Warren Bennis interviewed 70 of our nation’s top performers in numerous fields. None of them used the word “failure” to describe their mistakes. Instead they referred to “learning experiences,” “tuition paid,” “detours” or “opportunities for growth.”

(2) Keep a Sense of Humor.

Give yourself margin to make mistakes. Laugh at your failures rather than languishing in them.

(3) Make Failure a Learning Experience

We should never walk away from failure empty-handed. Each failure comes with lessons attached, and we can learn invaluable principles from them.

The Big 5 Recap:

(1) Everybody Gets Discouraged
(2) Everybody Has Problems
(3) Everybody Resists Change
(4) Everybody Feels Fear
(5) Everybody Experiences Failure

Attitude, the difference maker, is the one thing that enables a leader to rise above these challenges.

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