February 23, 2017
Law Five: We Face Challenges
When it comes down to it, there is a comfort in staying the same. Even if we are miserable in our staying-the-sameness, we can oddly appreciate—even depend on—the certain level of predictability that is provided there. For some, the anxiety of change outweighs the pain of staying the same. Whether we are trying something new or doing only what we know, we are being tested in both directions. For this reason, facing challenges is unavoidable.
Importantly, the act of making changes can feel scary, overwhelming, and even impossible. So, it’s good to remember up-front that in every transition there will be challenges. Just as, doing what we’ve always done can be challenging. The only difference is, when we are pushing ourselves to grow and evolve challenges are good and necessary. They are, in fact, an integral part of the deal when we start to make changes. We grow as a direct result of them. Some would even say that challenges are indispensable—a pre-requisite—to growth.
After all, can we really say that progress is even possible without challenges? Could it even still be defined as growing if nothing needed to be overcome in order to achieve it? Change without challenge is just a different shade of “the same”, right?
And, we are talking about challenges—growth opportunities—not struggles. While each word points to a similar idea—they are not the same. Struggles are our challenges in disguise; we can think of our struggles as challenges which are at the wrong volume.
A challenge, by definition, is a test of our abilities; whereas a struggle is a difficult effort. At a basic level of linguistics, we can feel the difference between the words in each definition. A “test of abilities” vs. “a difficult effort”.
While struggling is an aspect of life that we have all, to some degree, experienced, it isn’t necessary for growth. That is to say, we can face challenges without necessarily struggling.
Indeed, we may even transform what was once a struggle into a challenge—but to struggle is not itself an essential element to our evolution. Overcoming challenges, on the other hand, is.
Think of it this way, it may be a constant struggle to “stay the same” because doing so involves emotions like boredom, fear, self-loathing, jealousy, and guilt—but, no one would say that staying the same is particularly challenging. In terms of mindset, struggles appear to be happening to us, while challenges are things that we happen to.
We are wise to consider this nuance and to ask ourselves, “Am I struggling or am I being challenged?” If the answer turns out to be the former, we know that it is time for a test of our abilities.
So, the question becomes, “How do I turn a struggle into a challenge?”
The answer has two parts. The first is to become aware of the struggle: Name it. The second part is to take action.
We can start by grabbing a piece of paper and writing about it—getting really clear about what it is we are struggling with, how it feels, and the history of how it got this way. Writing it down “exposes” it. A lot of what we struggle with is difficult to pin down unless we either talk about it or write about it. Until we do either, our thoughts and emotions are likely to feel like an amorphous cloud bouncing around in our brains and whirring.
Once we have named it, we can begin to truly examine its parts. In this process, we can look at the situation with greater objectivity and begin to ask ourselves, “What can be done about this?”
(The answer is rarely “nothing”, but if that is the case, the solution is: Acceptance. If nothing can be done about a situation, the answer is to accept it, which is when it moves from a struggle to a challenge. It is, after all, a tremendous struggle to not accept a situation that we can do nothing about. So, the challenge—the thing that tests our abilities—is to learn strategies for accepting it. In doing so, we may feel the pinch of leaving behind the “comforts” of anger, resentment, and self-righteousness, which, while miserable, kept us feeling a certain level of safety and control in the situation. In a nutshell, in this example: The struggle is non-acceptance, the challenge is acceptance. And, this model can be applied to most of life’s scenarios.)
So, once we have named the dragons that we face, we can look at the situation with a greater level of objectivity. This allows us to identify specific points for action. Say, for example, that we are struggling with money—let’s say that we never feel like we have enough. The first step in moving this dynamic from a struggle to a challenge would be to define that word: “enough”. Once we have done that and taken a look at our lives in such a way that gives us a specific dollar amount, then we can take action toward a concrete goal. As in, instead of working to have “enough money”, we can work to have exactly $4100 per month, which would cover our bills, savings, investments, plus give us some money to play with and have fun with.
All struggles are challenging, but not all challenges are a struggle. When we get specific about what we are feeling and facing, we can take action to improve our situation. This can turn a struggle to stay the same into a challenge to evolve.
Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.
Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at StrengthsLife.com
His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world. He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.