The Issue is Not the Issue

It’s too easy to focus on treating symptoms and ignore the root problem. For an example, allow me to mock myself for your enjoyment.


My grades were poor in certain key classes in college. Not so good. My study habits were deplorable and I knew it.

My response? I buckled down and forced myself to have marathon study sessions. I worked hard on the homework. I got help from classmates. I went to the professor’s office hours.

The result? My grades hardly improved. I saw my study habits as the main issue and I worked on it — only to realize I was just treating the symptom. Thus, I didn’t get the result I wanted.

The issue is not the issue.

The real issue, the root problem and not the symptom, was my major. Though I enjoyed the odd class, I am definitely not wired to be an Electrical Engineer. This observation is painfully obvious to me now, but it evaded me for too long.

Once I woke up, I switched my major to Computer Science. That, combined with good study habits, brought my grades up from “embarrassing” to “stellar!” I thrived and thoroughly enjoyed my classes.

(My grades would have improved dramatically even without better study habits, purely because I was much more interested in the material.)

The way we see the problem is the problem.
– Stephen R. Covey

The next time you have an issue, step outside yourself and examine the root cause of the problem. Are you using a band-aid when you actually need surgery? Are you taking antacids instead of eating better? Are you quitting your job because of your boss when you really need to work on your personal boundaries?

Instead of treating symptoms, your time is better spent discover the underlying problem.

What is an issue you have had in the past? What was the root cause of the issue?