I remember a very wise person once telling me that one of the luckiest things you can come across during the course of your day is the opportunity to face a challenge that will cause you to grow and change in ways you never expected. It is during these times of being stretched and shaped by unexpected events that we break out of our moulds, and surprising new horizons can open up before us.
Most of us, when we are being interviewed for a new job, claim to really thrive on new challenges. This is what prospective employers want to hear, and it is a comforting, positive thing to tell ourselves, as long as we are not imminently faced with a real challenge that we fear may be beyond our capacity to handle.
I wonder, though, in our heart of hearts, if we believe this to be true. I hate to admit this, but much of my life I have been in the business of avoiding problems and situations that I am not really sure I will be able to overcome. I still remember, for instance, pretending to be sick in elementary school gym class to avoid having to do the flexed arm hang in front of my classmates. In high school, I somehow developed the belief that creative expression was not my strength, and I spent many years avoiding painting, drawing, and creative writing. My skills were math, science, and physical education, and I unwaveringly stuck to my strong suits. Far too late, I came to the realization that, like all human beings, I am a complex being, filled with ideas and the creative energies needed to express them.
If we accept that life is an adventure, a mysterious experience filled with danger and opportunity, we should also accept that danger and challenge are part of the adventure. Of course, accepting danger and challenge also means accepting the inevitability of moments of sorrow, pain, and failure in our lives. We are none of us immune to making mistakes or falling flat on our faces. What is important is that we do not let the knowledge of such risks cause us to always play it safe, to always sit on the sidelines.
If I believed in the value of having any regrets in life, I would like to take back all those years I spent avoiding situations that I worried would make me look foolish or weak. I would take a whole lot more chances, and learn a lot more things from the times that I “failed.” And right now, I’m hoping that the next time I’m lucky enough to meet a challenge, I won’t back down from it, and I’ll recognize it for the opportunity it is.