Embracing Challenges as a way to answer, ‘What am I capable of’?

Admiring the view after my 297th consecutive climb up Table Mountain, Cape Town.

It’s a hard pill to swallow – but my greatest teachers have all been times of challenge.

‘Challenge’ could be supplanted by the word ‘test’, and I like to think of life challenges as going to university. I chose my degree (life path) with specific classes (life lessons) and then teachers test my knowledge on those subjects at the end of each semester (challenges).

In life, the tests don’t come so ‘neatly’ though as I make choices affecting where I live, what I spend time doing, who I spend time with – all of which inform my thoughts helping shape ideas which ultimately inspire action – if they resonate with my highest values.

One of the most profound lines I ever read was:

When you pray for patience, God doesn’t just hand it to you, He gives you opportunities to practice it.

That means I can’t ask to be better without invoking the test associated with that. This profoundly shapes my mindset, instead of seeing wisdom as the ability to download information like Neo in the matrix – my skills are crafted through time and practice. There are no shortcuts in life and as Carl Jung so eloquently warned us: “Beware of unearned wisdom”

Wanting to be a better human being is noble – but am I prepared to do the work that makes that a reality? Am I prepared to journey into the underworld on a quest that tests my fortitude?

Understanding How my highest Values Inform my Actions

I’m drawn to reflect on any number of conferences, workshops and talks where experts share strategies and tips to be healthy. I’m struck by how simple all the strategies actually are. The wisdom is there – but nobody ever said simple meant easy.

I’ve come to learn an important (albeit simplistic) understanding: people who place a high value on health will invest time working on it.

The pursuit of happiness and a desire to feel fulfilled helped create a new metaphor recently: Follow my own treasure map, otherwise how can I be surprised when there’s no treasure because it’s already been picked up?

The real trick is to learn how to look inside and read my own map. What we can learn and teach each other are the key elements to follow through on our hero’s journey: Patience, Commitment, Discipline, Perseverance, and Confidence.

The ‘secret’ is making what we want a priority – and embracing the journey.

Look at the plethora of diets and exercise gurus selling ‘the next greatest pill/book/workout/diet/food/piece of exercise equipment’. After 22 years in the fitness world I’ve come across a handful of trustworthy people honestly laying it out from the beginning in simple terms: It takes hard work, discipline and consistency.

Being healthy and fit has always been a priority for me, so I make time for it. I’ve only just discovered that one of my driving forces is not ‘how successful can I be’ but rather ‘what am I capable of?’ – I’m now translating that physical knowledge into all the other areas of my life knowing my capabilities are limited only by how far I’m prepared to push myself.

Coupled with a deep curiosity about the gorgeous world we live in helps me say “yes” to things instead of “no.” Saying “yes” creates opportunities for new experiences and allows me to explore those capabilities.

All that culminated when I had the idea to climb Table Mountain every day for an entire year. I found my treasure map and if ever there was a challenge to face – THIS WAS IT!

Breaking Down Challenges into Core Components

I love solving problems because I enjoy figuring out the process of how to do things. Below is my attempt to break down challenges into their core components to see their benefits:

  1. They’re Bigger than anything experienced before (if at all) – tests/reveals character.
  2. Clear Problem – tests ability to solve and collaborate.
  3. Time based – test resilience and perseverance.
  4. All-encompassing and inescapable – requires mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual work.
  5. Unlocks wisdom – tests true desire.

Challenge implies I will experience discomfort, requiring innovative solution-based thinking that uses my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual prowess within a certain time frame – the reward being a sense of accomplishment coupled with deeper understandings about life, relationships and who I am.

Let’s see how I can write that out using my yearly climb up Table Mountain expressed in a ‘formula’ of the core components:

Having never committed to anything remotely audacious as this, I had to commit to no days off climbing through all elements, testing my physical strength, my mental fortitude to persevere on the same route and maintain enthusiasm, my emotional strength to cope with no days off or respite, combined with the spiritual purpose to understand myself and how to build community around my beliefs and contribute to society. My reward was wisdom gained from committing whole-heartedly to self-belief and discovering a repeatable template of what I’m capable of. 366 days of experiences shaped into one deep profound realization: I’m supposed to be having fun along the way as much as I know I’ll feel at the end.

Filling each day with gratitude and searching for it’s uniqueness (even when doing the exact same thing every day) showed me how much beauty there is. Even in repetition.

My experience with COVID-19:

While initially it looked like a six week struggle, that’s turned into a year (and could possibly be longer before things return to some form of normalcy) The major challenges within it have been maintaining a healthy lifestyle while overcoming the mental challenges forced isolation brings with it (I’m fortunate though that I have Jessie to share it with). It’s testing my physicality to stay fit in unusual ways, mentally as I’m unable to build new relationships in a city I’ve just moved to, emotionally as I deal with the strain of isolation and conflicting news reports mashed in with the uncertainty of how much longer there is to go. The spiritual challenge is the deepest one, how to connect with others struggling in these times and build a community to empower those being devastated by the effects of lockdown. The reward is a shared humanity as we all reach the other side of a once in a 100-year event touching all seven billion of us. Hopefully we come out of it with a deeper sense of gratitude for what we have, an understanding of what and who is important to us, and a deeper knowing of how connected we all are and a renewed sense of vigor on strengthening our society.

Difference Between Selecting a Challenge – and Life Throwing us One

Two things stand out from the examples above:

  1. Choosing a challenge gives the advantage of knowing how long it is.
  2. Just because life throws a challenge we haven’t experienced before, doesn’t mean we don’t have the tools to face it. Past experiences provide a way to adapt our mindset on how to tackle the new one.

Mindset. A word I hear almost daily. What I don’t hear as often – is Heartset.

I believe they work in conjunction and just like a muscle at gym – can be trained.

Mindset is developing the skills to overcome the urge to give up, or surrender to challenges. Mindset is an opportunity in the good times to prepare for the bad times. We can build habits we know work during good times to mimic when we feel out of sorts. We can recognize that we are a coin with two sides that constantly flips from one side to the other. It’s how we manage each flip and absorb the lesson from each experience to grow and level up for the next challenge that lies in wait – and it’s always there. This governs what we can control mentally and physically.

Heartset is developing the ability to listen to our intuition, realizing that out inner guidance system speaks to us putting a spotlight on the correct path to follow – even when our rational mind or society says ‘no ways! You gotta go this way!’ It’s about developing a more compassionate approach to ourselves which will ultimately translate into how we engage with the world around us.  This is the seat of our emotions and soul keeping us aligned with our highest purpose and values.

Next Question – So What?

It means there’s hope! We’ve all made it this far and instead of feeling overwhelmed we can take heart from our resiliency. It means we can take time to analyze our past to build templates of success for future challenges and if nothing else – know that whatever is thrown at us we’re capable of overcoming it. I don’t know if this template is helpful, but it’s a starting place to focus on what you have accomplished and overcome already.

I love the line We will never be given anything we can’t handle – that alone has helped me through some rough times.

It also means that the more challenges I seek out with the clear intention of discovering who I am and what I’m capable of – the better equipped I become for future challenges which I can’t stress enough – are always there.

Knowing they’re there waiting for us like a hurdle in a race isn’t any reason to get disheartened – it just means the better we train the better our race will be. More importantly, the better equipped we become to assist others fresh on their journey of self-discovery.

Next to the tragic loss of life, one of the most devastating things about COVID-19 is the separation. We’re not meant to endure challenges on our own. While we always need to do the work ourselves – of course – it doesn’t mean we have to do it alone.

Never underestimate the power your kind gesture has on the person receiving it.

Knowing what help you need takes self-reflection.

Asking for it takes courage.

Applying it builds wisdom.

Would you like to apply what you’ve just taken in? Has this been helpful? I’d love to hear from you – reach out and let’s set up a call (Click here) and see how to analyze the challenges you’ve experienced and better yet:

Create one that helps you discover what you’re really capable of.

I believe we have an opportunity to build one of the most powerful communities rooted in compassion, love, and perspective.  

And that starts by building strong individuals – like you.

The world needs you and your gifts.


2 thoughts on “Embracing Challenges as a way to answer, ‘What am I capable of’?

  1. Wow , Andrew, there is a lot there and really positive stuff! We each have the ability to get through but some just don’t know it and at that wrong moment of darkness get lost and give way .
    I will reread this and give gratitude for you and your thoughts and experiences but one real lesson of strength is to ask for help when we need it it, are hurting or are lost – it is not weakness but strength to allow others to guide , carry and support us at times – but we can all pay it forward too.
    One small step at a time
    Thank you, with love appreciation , Sue C

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    1. It’s why it’s so important to share with each other and be there in whatever way someone needs us. You’ve taken away a powerful lesson! It certainly isn’t a weakness by any means.

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