The Filament Blog

What’s The Real Problem Here?

Jan 12, 2023

I bought my house in Utah sight unseen in 2021. I had been working with a real estate agent for months and we hadn’t found anything that would work for someone who uses a wheelchair. This was when Utah’s real estate market was off the charts and houses were selling in 48 hours, so finding an accessible space was even more difficult.

Then one day my agent called me and said, “Carson, I think I found it”. It was a one level place in a great location between my family’s house and Salt Lake City. I was living in New York City at the time, so I asked my mom and sister to walk through while FaceTiming me. It needed many modifications to become accessible, but it had ample space and a beautiful open floor plan, so I bought the home.

I was beyond excited, dreaming of what it was going to feel like to have a home and a space that met my needs. After almost a decade of trying to deal with less-than-ideal living circumstances, this would be a sanctuary and a respite in a world designed for people who walk. My plan was to renovate hard and fast. I’d lay a new floor, widen 10 doorways, build a ramp, and tear out the entire master bathroom and replace it with a roll-in shower. I imagined that would take about 3 months (some of you are laughing right now).

Remember how I said I am a first time homeowner? I quickly learned that my timeline was not only unrealistic in the best circumstances, but impossible given the shortage of both materials and contractors. I was disappointed, but dealt with my feels, reset expectations and conceded - Fine, 6-8 months.

Wrong again.

After almost a year of transferring into a bathtub and living out of cardboard boxes filled with clothes, I was frustrated. I complained every morning as I rummaged through wrinkled tees in the shirt box. “I’ll be so happy when this is over!” I whined. Admittedly, it was very inconvenient living this way, but I could tell that I wasn’t just inconvenienced - I was disempowered.

I pay very close attention to my complaints. Especially the recurring ones - because they are an incredibly effective way to identify disempowered areas of life. So, after the millionth complaint, I paused to look at the real problem:

“What’s the real problem here?” I asked myself. (I let myself be honest and raw at first to get it all out.)

“I bought a house that I can’t even use because it’s inaccessible!”

“And what’s the problem with that?”

“It’s inaccessible!”

“What’s the real problem with the fact that it’s accessible?”

*Pausing to look*

“It’s uncomfortable and I just want it over with. I’ve dealt with so much struggle in my living situation for so long. I am rarely physically comfortable, and I was looking forward to getting into a house where I could feel at ease. I’ll just be happy when I’m in a place that works for me.”

“So you have a story that you can’t be happy in a place that doesn’t work for you. Is that true?”

*More pausing*

“No, it’s not. I’ve lived happily for a long time in many inaccessible places. I can be happy living in a house that isn’t accessible to me and I am committed to this place getting modified when that works out.”

“How does that story feel compared to the other?”

 “Good. I feel so much relief. These cardboard boxes everywhere are kinda cute and remind me that I can make anything work.”

 Once I finally let go of my story that I couldn’t be happy in an inaccessible home, I suddenly found that my home already was so peaceful and comfortable in most ways.

 After asking myself this simple question, I was totally free to wait for the house to be finished. I am pleased to report that this week the last installment to my home was added - the master bathroom mirror! After a year and a half of waiting, I was elated that the home was finally complete. Having an accessible bathroom has been everything I dreamed it would be. But what was even more satisfying about all this was knowing that I didn’t need that bathroom, or anything else, in order to be empowered right where I am.

“What’s the real problem here?” is a magical question that I often ask my clients - it’s intended to have them look at the issues behind the superficial ones. Disempowerment often masquerades as a situation (e.g. I thought that my problem was actually the inaccessibility of my home - that’s a circumstance), but both empowerment and disempowerment live in the meaning we have added to the situation.

The next time you notice a recurring complaint in your life, big or small, try gently asking yourself, “What’s the real problem here?” This question can coax out pieces of our experience that we’ve been avoiding or has been out of our awareness. I often find that just identifying the story provides the breakthrough. By engaging in this inquiry, I promise you’ll gain some insight into what you’re actually dealing with, giving you access to creating all the miracles and breakthroughs you need to create the life you love.