Crisis or Challenge? Do you know the difference?

Life is challenging as you know.  Why is it that we are able to cope with some of life’s challenges even though they are demanding and stressful, and other situations make us feel that our world is crashing around us?


The difference is the distinction between a challenge and a crisis. Let’s begin by recognising that all crises are also challenges but not all challenges are crises.  A crisis is a specific kind of challenge that overwhelms and scares us.

As we gain life experience we discover that what may have been a life crisis when we were young becomes a simple challenge when we are older.  Remember the first time you had to confront someone who was bullying you.  It was a crisis!  Chances are you never slept the night before planning what you were going to say in the confrontation and imagining how the other person would respond.  You can probably still feel the stress as you remember that event.  However now that you are older confronting difficult or obnoxious people may still not be pleasant but it isn’t nearly as stressful as that first time.

This example gives a the key to understanding how today’s crisis if handled well, can be tomorrows challenge.  The key is our skill and experience.  Let’s consider another example from driving a car.  At some stage of a vehicle driver’s life you will have to deal with a puncture.  Imagine you hear the flat tyre flapping and feel the resulting loss of control in the vehicle.  You pull off on the side of the road and try to remember the tyre change sequence to follow as you go to open the boot of the car.  Thus far the flat tyre is a challenge.  What upgrades this moment to a crisis is when you peer into the boot and realise that despite having an inflated spare wheel, there is no jack or wheel spanner in the car.  In that second your challenge has become a crisis and all because you do not have the tools with which to address what up to then had been a mere challenge.

Our emotion journeys are very much like that car ride.  The extent to which life’s challenges remain just challenges is determined by how many tools we have in our emotional toolbox.  A crisis is that challenge for which we have no suitable tools.

There is a positive message in every crisis which can enrich us if we have the sanity to see it.  With every experience of crisis comes the hidden invitation to increase our emotional tool set by handling the crisis and learning from it.  I was once caught in a motoring crisis without a  jack and couldn’t change the flat tyre.  I now check that I have that critical piece of equipment in every car I drive.

Today’s crisis is an opportunity to upskill myself so that next time something similar occurs, I will be prepared meet the challenge.