CHOOSE THE CHALLENGE

Every day life places plenty of options before us. For some of us it begins with whether or not to push the snooze button on the alarm. Do we go to the gym and do our workout now or later? Will I spend my commute listening to the latest hits or listening to an educational podcast? It goes on from there. There are always plenty of options and choices for us to make every day, from what we choose to do, our attitude for the day and the perspective we can take towards it. But how do I know that I am choosing the right option?

The simple truth is that we don’t know; we make a choice and move forward because we will never know what might have happened if we had chosen ‘the other thing’. Perhaps instead of getting up the morning I do press the snooze and end up late for work, the start of a pattern or the end of the job. Or perhaps, even though we do press it, that last ten minutes of dream gives us the answer to a question that we’ve been looking for. There’s no way of knowing. So, if there’s no right answer, what do I do?

Choose the most challenging option!

I have discovered that the best thing to do when faced with options is to choose the most challenging one. Over and over life has taught me that I learn and gain the most from the more difficult options available to me. When faced with a choice between a warm bed or a sweaty gym, it’s easy to know which I really need to do this morning. The hard one, the challenging one, the one that will help me to grow. For me, I don’t or rarely remember my dreams, so the next ten minutes of shut-eye won’t help me to invent the next sewing machine.

I have learned that if I feel challenged, if I feel some trepidation, or if I feel out of my league, that’s usually where I really need to go. Life is easy inside my comfort zone of keeping everything the same and not upsetting the schedule that I have made for myself. However, the ‘fun’ part of life, the times that I know that I am really living, are when I push myself to do that ‘hardest’ thing. It’s the difference between a life well lived and enjoying the adventure of it all. It doesn’t mean that I should run out and skydive or quit my job and join the circus. Facing a challenge, trying new things, putting myself in uncomfortable situation are what makes life more livable and enjoyable. Life really does happen outside my comfort zone.

Photo by Kush Kaushik on Pexels.com

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”  John. F. Kennedy

And if the truth be told, I usually know in my ‘gut’ what I should do. I don’t always do it, but I pretty much always ‘know’. And the result of doing that which is hard? There isn’t always a clear winner, but for the most part, even if I fail, at first, I am winning because I rose to the challenge, I faced my fear, I learned something new. That, for me, is what life is all about. The moon or Mars or even the gym may not be in my future, but I can still do things that will challenge and mold me into a better version of the guy who didn’t push the snooze button.

There is a Solution

I finished reading a short book last week called: Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. It’s by a Jesuit priest, Anthony De Mello who died in 1987 at the age of 56. The book, published posthumously, is really a compilation of talks he gave at various retreats throughout North America and his native India. If you get a chance, it is worth a read. The chapters are short and concise, and full of incredible wisdom and insight.

One of the things he discusses is his belief that people are not looking for a cure for their illness or their problems. Rather, they are looking for relief. How often do I look for relief from the pain and discomfort of an illness? If I suffer from knee pain, I would rather take a Tylenol, because the cure, losing the extra 30 plus pounds I’m carrying, would be work in the form of exercise and diet. It’s easier to get relief in pill form than curing the problem. I am unhappy in my relationship, so I seek some sort of an outlet to make it more bearable because to find a solution implies a lot of effort. Relief is faster, easier to attain, and, most notable, does not require me to make the changes that the cure requires.

What if I hate the job I working at? What might the cure be? I could quit, discover my passion and work at it. But that would mean moving out of my comfort zone and living in uncertainty. So, I seek methods of relief. Maybe it’s recreational drugs or booze. Perhaps I go for high risk activities or adrenaline rushes. There are many routes to find relief and avoid the cure.

Finding a cure to my challenges means finding the root cause to my woes. And few people are willing to look that deep. It may mean some self-reflection. It may mean some outside assistance with a psychiatrist or other therapist. It may mean admitting to past mistakes in life choices. And for most of us, our Egos won’t allow us to go that deep. So, we stay stuck, looking for momentary relief rather than trying to cure our ills.

Finding a cure means making changes to our lives. Many people tell me that I live their ideal life. I tell them that they can do the same thing if they want it. But few are willing to make the changes in their lives necessary to live this life. Few are willing to take the risk. Living in Costa Rica does imply an incredibly special lifestyle that I love. But it also means that I live far from my family. It means adapting to a new culture and a new language. It’s not all butterflies and bananas all the time. We are all free to do whatever we want in life if we are willing to accept the consequences. The cost of the cure, of making life changes, is much higher than the cost of relief.

So many of us seek relief from the suffering rather than a cure from whatever ails us. We try to avoid the challenges in life by putting on blinders. It’s easier, often a faster but it offers only momentary relief, and then we must seek that relief once again. Over time, we begin to identify with our pain and make it part of our being. We forget that it there is a cure. And we forget that if we are willing to do what it takes, there is a solution.

Essentialism

“When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people–our bosses, our colleagues, or clients and even our families–will choose for us and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.” Greg McKeown, Essentialism

My life is sometimes not my own. It’s my own fault. I have several apartments that I look after. There is always something that needs to checked on or repaired. Tenants have reasons why the rent is late. The short term stay apartment has to be ready at a moment’s notice. There’s always the pool to vacuum, plants to water, decks to wash. It’s never ending. I can go from one task to the next and not stop. The big maintenance projects, well, they’ll just have to wait for another day. If I don’t watch it, my whole day is consumed with solving little things and not getting to or being too tired to start the things that I really need to do as well as things I want to do.

Life is like that. We go from one thing to the next and one task to the next without really thinking about it: I have to do it. And gradually the day is done and I haven’t accomplished but half of what I wanted to do.  Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism suggests that if we are going to get to do what we really want then we must begin by deciding what is important to us. What is it that I value? What am I trying to accomplish here? What are my goals and where do I want them to take me?

Few people take the time to sit down and make this evaluation. As it often goes, we spend 80% of our time doing things that are not important to us, not essential,  and 20% of our time, if that, doing what is. Everyone will ask us for our time and our talents. There are always going to be little fires to put out here and there. It would probably be a better solution to discover the source of those little fires in the first place.

Essentialism often means saying, ‘No!’ I can’t be everything to everyone. Yes I want to be the nice guy and help out but if it’s not important to me and if it’s not my responsibility, I have to ask myself, just why I am doing this? If it is taking my focus away from my priorities then I can say no to joining yet another committee, or going organizing another office function. And yes, the first time I give a firm no! I may ruffle a few feathers, especially if I have always been the one to say yes. But sticking to the essentials will allow me to use more of my time to on my priorities.

I would rather do one thing well than divide my attention and try to do several things just okay. Perhaps that’s the reason why I am running around trying to solve a whole lot of little problems. Rather than let work, friends, and even family decide where I want to focus my energy, I purposefully and deliberately choose where I will focus my energy.

Essentialism won’t solve all the challenges in life. There will always be things that broadside us when we least expect them. But if we have the majority of our lives organized then the chances of it knocking us of our balance are much less. In the end it will help me to accomplish much more.

What’s important to you?