We enjoy doing comfortable things.
We don’t want to stretch ourselves too much, because when you stretch, there’s a possibility of overstretching. We fear this potential negative, so we buck the other way, contenting ourselves with doing activities and pursuing projects that aren’t too risky.
It’s not that we don’t want to do better work and overcome new challenges. Ask anybody around you if they want to overcome challenges, and their answer will be “yes”. The problem is with the word “overcome”. We want to get past a challenge, but the whole reason it is a challenge is because there’s a possibility of failure. If there’s no way to fail, there’s not much of a challenge.
This is important to realize, because it gives us a direction to move in if we want to grow. We should move in the direction that brings new challenges. Crucially, these challenges are things you could fail at. It’s not the sort of failure that we artificially insert into our lives where there isn’t much at stake. Instead, the idea is to embrace a challenge that will push you further than you previously thought possible.
If you’re like me, this is a bit of a foreign thought. After all, we do things that we are good at and have a reasonable expectation to accomplish. I might seem good at school, but my successes aren’t huge surprises. So what if I do good in classes that I’m expected to do well in? If I’ve spend three years studying physics and mathematics, it seems reasonable to suspect that I will do decently in whatever next class I take during my degree.
Challenges come in all shapes and sizes, but I think we often fool ourselves about just how big of challenges we try to take on.
Think about an activity you enjoy. Anything in the world. It could be the subject you study in school, a sport you practice, a game you play, a craft you study in spare time. The specific idea doesn’t matter. Got it? Okay, now imagine what would happen if you suddenly levelled up.
By “levelling up”, I’m asking about what would happen if you became as good as the people you admire in that area? What if you were able to perform at that kind of level?
It would be amazing, right?
The issue is getting there. Surprisingly, it might not even be that the way there is unknown. Instead, it’s the fact that levelling up doesn’t always come from putting in a bit more work every day. That’s a great thing to do, but sometimes, making the jump that changes everything requires taking on a challenge or commitment that qualifies as a challenge.
I write and draw every day, but I don’t think I’ve taken on the challenge in those areas of my life quite yet. Yes, I’m getting better at both of these crafts and I enjoy my simple routine, but I’m not necessarily doing a ton to level up.
On the other hand, I am in the process of levelling up in my education. I will be attending an intense graduate physics program in the fall, and this will be something that is much more than just the next step in my education. It’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time, but I know that this is a challenge worth taking on.
The thing about challenges is that you need to be honest with yourself. Take on too much, and you probably won’t learn anything useful. Take on too little, and you fool yourself into thinking that you’re doing great when really nothing much is being done. There’s definitely a sweet spot, but I have a tendency to err on the side of caution. This is something I need to account for when setting new goals and taking on challenges.
You should take stock of your own biases, and then decide what kind of challenges will allow you to level up. Maybe you don’t want to level up in a certain area, and that’s okay too. Going to the next level in any pursuit comes with more responsibility and work. This is unavoidable, and those who fare best are those who embrace this work. As such, my suggestion to you is to find a pursuit which you are thrilled to do even if there’s a lot of work involved. This will indicate to you where a potential challenge could be set.
Above all, remember that levelling up isn’t easy, but it’s called that for a reason. It’s a huge opportunity to take your work to the next stage, and this can open up plenty of avenues later on.
If a challenge isn’t scary, is it really even a challenge?
The answer to this question might frustrate you at first, but it’s also an encouragement to set bigger goals and to do work that pushes you further than you thought possible.