In my opinion, a challenge is a task you assign to YOURSELF (even though someone else may have inspired you). You gladly put a lot of energy into it.
A problem is a task that is forced upon you (or if you get yourself into trouble). If you’d had a choice, you wouldn’t put any effort into it. A problem often gives misery, and that’s exactly why we feel more comfortable with a challenge.
You can evade challenges, but you can’t escape from problems (tweet this).
So, since we want to determine our own life, we’d rather not talk about our problems. Instead, we prefer to talk about challenges. Therefore, calling a problem a challenge is euphemistic language: pretending you choose a task that actually forces itself inevitably upon you.
In this sense, climbing a mountain on a bicycle is a challenge: nobody forces you to do this and reaching the top gives satisfaction. A flat tire along the way however is a problem: you need to act to fix the misery. This is a typical example that presumes an order difference: first you need to solve problems before you can achieve your challenge.
We also see this on a larger scale: the so-called Grand Challenges (*) are challenges, but solving these poses enormous problems. In my opinion, this is also a case of euphemistic language. I think that nobody would gladly put that much energy in solving these Grand Challenges if indeed it were challenges. Instead, we’re facing problems, screaming for solutions.
In fact, the Grand Challenges are Grand Problems.
To some extent, committing yourself to a challenge is selfish when it primarily concerns your own personal development. However, a challenge can also hold a task to help others solving their problems, and in that case there’s something noble to it. If solving somebody else’s problems goes too much at the expense of yourself, you may ask yourself if you’re on the right track and how long you can carry on with it.
Others can contribute to achieving your challenge, but eventually it’s something you have (want) to do yourself. Others can solve or take away your problems (entirely), even if you don’t contribute anything.
Finally, if you call problems challenges, and that makes you feel good: fine with me, I don’t want to spoil your pleasure. But regarding both problems and challenges consider this: think in solutions!
Question: could you please give examples of challenges and problems that fit my description? And do you really need to solve your problems before you can commit yourself to a challenge?
(*) According to the European Commission, the Grand Challenges are (Horizon 2020):
- Health, demographic change and wellbeing
- Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research, and the bio-economy
- Secure, clean and efficient energy
- Smart, green and integrated transport
- Climate action, resource efficiency and raw materials
- Inclusive, innovative and secure societies.
This is a repost of my (Dutch) April 8, 2013 blogpost. Please let me know if like to read other posts in English.