John Maxwell: The ‘Big 5’ Challenges People Face

UPDATED: May 13, 2024
PUBLISHED: December 4, 2012

It’s easy to have a great attitude when things are going our way; everybody can do that. It’s when difficult challenges rise before us, and the attitude within us rises to overcome those problems, that attitude becomes the difference-maker. Unfortunately, it’s more common for our attitude to fall short of rising to life’s challenges. I have come to the conclusion there are five reasons our attitudes fall short of what they should be: discouragement, problems, change, fear and failure.


Everyone gets discouraged. Sydney Harris said, “When I hear somebody sigh, ‘Life’s hard,’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’ ” Not everyone responds to discouragement in the same way. In regard to discouragement, there are two kinds of people in the world: splatters and bouncers. Splatters hit rock bottom, fall apart and stick to the bottom like glue. Bouncers hit rock bottom, pull themselves back together and bounce back up. The question is: Are you going to give up or get up? It’s a choice.

Here are a few suggestions that will help you bounce when you experience discouragement.

Get the right perspective.

You don’t have to look very far to see that you have it pretty good. See the right people. In Winning with People, I talk about the Elevator Principle. There are some people who lift you up and some people that bring you down. When you are discouraged, you need to go find yourself a lifter! Say the right words. In his excellent work, Spiritual Depression: Its Cause and Cure, Dr. Lloyd Martyn Jones wrote, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself rather than talking to yourself?” Remarkable? Think about it. You wake up in the morning, and right away, there are streams of thought coming into your mind. You haven’t invited them; you didn’t ask for them; you are not consciously doing anything to produce them; they just come. Instead of compliantly listening to them, start telling yourself the positive, difference-making words you need to hear. Problems

I love what Malcolm Forbes said about problems: “If you have a job without aggravation, you don’t have a job.” Like discouragement, everyone experiences problems, but there are some basic principles for handling problems well.

Define what a problem is.

Fred Smith taught me many years ago that a problem is something I can do something about. If I cannot do something about a situation, it is a fact of life, not a problem. Anticipate problems. A problem anticipated is an opportunity. But a problem not anticipated is a problem. Embrace each problem as a potential opportunity. I’ve always loved this expression: Problems are wake-up calls for creativity. The great Norman Vincent Peale said, “Positive thinking is how you think about a problem. Enthusiasm is how you feel about a problem. The two together determine what you do about a problem.” Change

Change is a challenge we cannot avoid.

Change has been with us since the beginning. Someone said that as Adam led Eve out of the Garden of Eden, he said, “My dear, we live in a time of transition.” Realize change is part of life. Decide what you are unwilling to change. For me, that includes my faith and family. Once that decision is settled, be open to and realistic about change. Here’s how I look at change:

Challenges—Change is not easy.
Humor—It helps if I laugh a lot.
Adjustments—It also helps if I am flexible.
Newness—Change gives me a fresh start.
Growth—Growth equals change.
Evaluation—Change forces me to look at my life.


There are some destructive effects of fear. For example, fear breeds fear; it has the ability to exaggerate itself. Fear causes inactivity. And, by distracting us, fear causes us to take our eyes off the goal. There are three steps to fixing your fears.

Step 1: Discover the foundation of fear.

Our fears are not usually based on fact; they are based on feeling. A study by the University of Michigan revealed:

60 percent of our fears are totally unwarranted, meaning the things we fear never come to pass. 20 percent of our fears are based in the past, which means they are out of our control. 10 percent of our fears are so petty that they can make no difference at all.

Of the other 10 percent, only 4 to 5 percent are real and justifiable fears. Mark Twain said it this way: “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

Step 2: Accept fear as the price of progress.

Dr. Susan Jeffers said, “As long as I continued to push out into the world, as long as I continued to stretch my capabilities, as long as I continued to take risks in making my dreams come true, I was going to experience fear.”

Step 3: Develop a burning desire within you.

The famous fight manager Cus D’Amato said, “The hero and the coward both feel exactly the same fear, only the hero confronts his fear and converts it into fire.”


Charles Parnell said, “Too many people are having what might be called ‘near-life experiences.’ They go through life bunting, so afraid of failure that they never try to win the big prizes, never knowing the thrill of hitting a home run or even taking a swing at one.” Don’t let the fear of failure stop you. And, don’t be stopped by failure. People who are stopped by failure see it from a personal perspective. People who are not stopped by failure see it from a process perspective. As Steve Davis said, “It may not be your fault for being down, but it is your fault for not getting up.”

Learn how to overcome the “Big 5,” and your attitude will be the difference-maker.