On Inviting in Challenge...

Today I watched in abject horror as a little hourglass--meant to depict some kind of behind-the-scenes action--ticked off moments on my computer screen at an agonizingly slow pace. My mouth had been dry for at least 45 minutes at that point, my heart racing with impatience and fear.

I'd just finished taking the 2nd in a series of 3 banking-related exams I'd been in the throes of studying for during the previous 4 1/2 weeks, and I was awaiting my score. It couldn't have been more than 10 seconds (was likely only 5), but it was the longest 10 (5) seconds.

When the result came up, (PASS--yay!), I stared motionless for a spell before finally releasing the breath I'd been holding for longer than what is probably healthy.

Comfort did not arrive quickly. I filled out the optional survey about the testing center just to get my sea legs before standing up. I texted my honey and my boss and then emailed my licensing coordinator to report the news. Then I drove to the nearest beach (which, luckily, was about 7 minutes away) to decompress.

As you may have imagined based on the high drama of my description, a lot was at stake. I'd already been out of my branch for over a month. Failing would mean more time away, the loss of the bonus I'll receive only if I pass all three tests the first time, the added drain on my company's/branch's resources (which actually matters to me), and, most of all, the disappointment I'd feel at having failed. I'd be wondering where I went wrong, wishing I could have a do-over, worried I wouldn't be able to pass the next time either.

Passing was as much about feeling relieved as it was about feeling a sense of accomplishment. 

Possibly more. This was not exactly a personal goal I set for myself and then achieved. It was a sink or swim kind of thing: Do this or you'll be looking for another job at some point.

It was a challenge, but not the warm and fuzzy rewards kind of challenge.

It did, however, get me thinking about challenges in general, and about setting personal goals in the first place. I didn't used to do it at all. Any goals I managed to accomplish were sort of pre-formed for me by virtue of the fact that I was a student or held a job. I put forth my best effort in those areas and was pleased when the outcomes were favorable. Until I was about 1/3 of the way through my year-long GGA blogging project a few years back, I truly wondered whether I was even capable of seeing a personal goal through to the end. What a sad thought; I was already 32 years old!

I now know I'm capable, but I haven't done a lot with that knowledge. These recent exams made me realize I missed the feeling of achieving something difficult. The exams were akin to the sort of challenge I'd have faced in school--just thrown down there for me, do it or don't. But the experience made me long for the greater-reward, more meaningful sense of accomplishment I know I feel if, unrelated to anything already expected of me, I decide to put myself up to the task of achieving something difficult.

What was stopping me?

Well, that's easy. It is just so, soooooo much more comfortable to humdrum along and pretend there is nothing more satisfying to be done in this world than to successfully feed a family and get children tucked in for the night. Like having just finished folding the last load of laundry were an orgasmic experience and walking away from day #119 of the 265 days I will spend at work this year were an alarmingly triumphant accomplishment.


This is called getting by. This is maintaining.

Do you realize that while I sit here thinking and writing about how little I challenge myself to do, people are forming foundations, launching innovative products and ideas, overthrowing asshole governments, designing and perfecting and administering and truly stretching the limits of their known skills and abilities? They are running ridiculously long races and researching the shit out of shady goings-on to keep the rest of us informed. They are adopting children with special needs and writing entire albums of songs, working 2 and 3 jobs and figuring out new ways to put together and cook ingredients, rendering the mundane act of nourishing our bodies an unforgettable, transcendent experience.

They are. They are doing those things and so many other things that to simply think about makes me feel tired.

So maybe I don't need to change the world in a sweeping gesture next week. But I need to remember this feeling. This feeling, in words, translates this way:

There are things I can do if I try. I will likely not be able to do all the things I try to do. If I were able to, the things I was trying to do weren't interesting or challenging enough. They were not pushing my limits or causing me to grow. But all the things I dare myself to do will leave me knowing more on the other end than I did before. They will stretch my experience and grow my knowledge, if even just a little bit and even if (especially if?) I fail at them.

They will all be worth more than 100 days spent doing what I know is easy and predictable and comfortable.

So then...what's next?

Kevin's Sketch(es)

Speaking of challenges! Tonight we did a 30-minute Manzanita challenge...I was finishing up my blog and Kevin did these two sketches in that time. Can you guess which one he did with his eyes closed?

1 comment:

  1. Again, Keeeees, PERFECT timing! I am embarking on a brand spankin' new job in my teaching career that is scary and invigorating, something that I know will be part of my personal evolution... I so appreciate your insight into trying new and (sometimes) frightening things...