The Math of Life


By Mark E. Smith

I love having problems. See, what I’ve learned in my life is that problems are opportunities for solutions, and with solutions comes success. In fact, in most cases in our lives, our biggest successes begin with a big problem.

Many have the equations of life backward. Although in math we’re taught that problems are solved with absolute solutions, many never look at life that way. Instead, we often view problems as unsolvable or insurmountable. Often when we encounter a problem, we give up or dramatically change directions. And, this, of course, makes achieving success and accomplishing our dreams impossible.

However, if we look at a problem as the first step toward success – that is, if I overcome this challenge, I will achieve my goal – a problem becomes nothing but positive. I mean, losing a great job for example, is in most people’s minds one of life’s toughest problems. Yet, I’ve known countless people who have used a firing as a catalyst to land better-paying, more-satisfying jobs. In this way, the problem of losing a job can either be a devastation or an opportunity for career advancement – and we have the power to choose the path.

Now, there are also bad problems and good problems, and while the objective is the same – find a solution! – few realize the difference. My daughter is formally enrolled to begin college this fall, as are many of her friends. The number one topic I hear from my fellow parents these days is the problem we’re all facing with looming $30,000 to $40,000 annual tuition bills. I’ve been expressing to my peers that this is a fantastic problem to have because while it may seem a financial nightmare on the surface, it’s only because we have amazing kids who’ve worked really hard to get accepted to among the best schools. If our biggest problem is paying for our children’s college because they’re succeeding in life, we’re actually blessed – it’s a great problem to have.

I’ve been working through good versus bad problems in looking to buy a new home. While my fiancée and realtor have been diligent and patient, it’s been impossible so far to find a home that can be made reasonably accessible for my power wheelchair and interior adaptations, such as an accessible bathroom. We’ve found several homes that if I could walk would have been dream homes. However, due to my special needs, house after house has had to be ruled out. It’s seemingly becoming a bad problem because as a man using a wheelchair, I’m seeing firsthand the problem we have in this country with an overall lack of housing that can be made accessible, from rentals to purchases. However, as one with a disability – where based on remaining social stereotypes and societal barriers to employment, my peers have an 85% unemployment rate – I’m blessed to be able to afford home ownership. Therefore, the ability to afford a house, but not be able to find one quickly based on my access needs, is a good problem to have.

In both these situations, what may seem like problems are actually remarkable opportunities for success. Solving the problem of costly tuition means that my daughter is the second person in my family’s history to attend college and, ideally, go on to an amazing career.  Solving the problem of finding my accessible dream home will allow me to live in my own sanctuary, full of laughter and love for decades to come. Yes, such circumstances begin as problems, but eventually they are pathways to remarkable success.

We all encounter problems in our lives, and it’s so easy to be frustrated at best, devastated at worst. However, if we’re going to succeed amidst adversity, we need to look at problems not as obstacles, but as opportunities. When we face a problem, it’s rarely that life isn’t going our way. Rather, when we face a problem, it’s usually life simply asking us to look at the situation a little deeper – and there within most often resides a path to greater success than we ever imagined. We may have problems, but we also have solutions to achieve amazing success.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

One thought on “The Math of Life”

  1. Once again, Mark, thank you for your insights and encouragement. I know at least one person who is immensely touched and encouraged by your words, because they are born out of your life! 🙂 Happy home-hunting for you and your family. It seems you already are making the “home,” now you just are looking for the place to put it? Congratulations to Dr. Emily, too, on her choice of a college, one choice of many. 🙂 Barbara

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