We were in a ski lodge in the mountains in Kitzbuhel, Austria. I was one of the younger people in the group, brought along by a mentor of mine.
One of the guys there was a big, fat, incredibly decadent guy. He liked skiing, helicopters, fast cars, women, and lots of food and drink. LOTS of food and drink.
Over breakfast one day, it's just him and me. I'd been a little ill the day before, so I'd turned in early and slept around 16 hours, and I was looking forward to trying to get on the slopes around noon. He'd been out at a strip club drinking heavily, and so the two of us were the last up and the last at breakfast.
The Austrian host and cook had been nice enough to keep the dining room open a little longer so we didn't have to hurry through breakfast, and we were attacking black coffee, eggs, meat, cheese, and bread. He might have been having Irish whisky too, I don't recall exactly.
He frowns for a second, and then laughs, and asks me:
"Sebastian... live to work, or work to live?"
First time I'd been asked it. It took me a second to get what he was asking. I think: "Do I... live in order to work, or work in order to live?"
Easy answer: "Live to work," I say.
He bursts out laughing.
"Hahaha! No! Work to live! Work to live, Sebastian!"
And that was precisely what he did. He had a particularly rare skill that, with appropriate scouting and fixing on the right opportunity/project, made him six-figures in USD in a month or two span whenever he employed it. Yet, he only worked on about one project per year, and spent the rest of his time skiing, eating, and hanging out with his friends.
When I don't get to work for more than a day and a half, I start going crazy.
I say, "I'm not working. This is a problem."
I've been packing mass on at the gym lately, with a pretty intense regular program and a high calorie clean diet. My weight broke 90 kg (200 lbs) for the first time in years recently, and I was really pleased.
It comes with a cost -- putting on lean muscle quickly also puts on bodyfat. But I don't care, I'm just picking up strength and mass, and that other consequence doesn't bother me.
Yet, a person trying to break into fashion modeling, playing a sport that you needed to be incredibly lean and lightweight, or trying to stay in a certain weight class for boxing or martial arts would see this as a huge problem. A moment that makes me smile -- cracking 90 kg on the scale -- would be panic-inducing for someone who needed their weight lower.
None of this is encoded in the universe. There's no atomic symbol for "problem" or "boon" or "setback" or "triumph."
We set our own goals and priorities, and then decide we have problems when something gets in the way of those self-set goals and priorities.
And you really do set your own goals and priorities. You're wholly in control of raising, lowering, and modifying your standards. Who else would be in control of that, if not you?
You get to choose what your problems are, and then they walk alongside you as a constant companion. You converse with them, you travel with them, you watch them and they seem to watch over you. Sometimes they ride on your back and shoulders, sometimes they push you to move faster, and sometimes they slow you down.
For most people, problems become their most stalwart and constant companions.
But you alone choose what your problems are.
So, choose carefully.