The Secret to Embracing Challenge like a Lazy Person
There’s a new development at Roadwritten: I’ve decided to take the easy way out.
Oops—I mean: I’ve decided to embrace challenge.
Hmm. I’m not explaining this right. Here’s the thing: it turns out that challenge and ease may be one and the same.
Let’s dig in.
Having grown up on farmland an hour north of Atlanta, I believed returning to live in a state I knew so well (namely, to Atlanta) would be taking the easy way out.
I’m not sure who was defining “easy way out,” but I suppose it came from a subconscious-ish belief that life should be a challenge. That I should pay dues to a grand, glimmering god who required assurance that I would struggle to “make it” wherever I landed.
I couldn’t land in a place where I already had a sense of belonging—what would I have proved? Grand glimmer god would be angry!
Did I question what I was trying to prove in the first place? No. That is, not until a year and a half ago when I decided to prove I would be a writer.
I don’t have to work hard at things I don’t enjoy. I don’t have to isolate when I feel like a loser. I don’t have to live in a new place and build a life and network from scratch.
Because it’s not about embracing challenge, it’s about embracing the right challenge.
The dangerous business of embracing challenge
Okay, right, if you’re reading this from a jail cell or hospital bed, there’s no doubt life sometimes foists challenges upon us against our will. You don’t always get to decide whether the challenge is right for you.
But there are challenges we choose.
There are positive challenges:
“I’m biking 30 miles twice a week!”
“I’m reading a book a month!”
“I’m starting an orphanage!”
And there are negative challenges.
Bogus, self-inflicted, and baseless. We all have them: oreos in the house when trying to lose weight. Flirting with the coworker with a beloved at home. A two-hour commute to the job you hate.
These negative challenges are how we stay busy enough to avoid what we really want: the positive challenges whose attainment might bring us actual happiness: career fulfillment, healthy love, robust health, etc.
‘Crazy-busy’ is a great armor, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us. –Brené Brown on Leadership
Perhaps more insidiously, we take on these challenges because at some level we think we deserve them.
Suffer enough ≠ Feel like enough
The distraction of action keeps us from paying attention to what matters.
We drink to drown sorrow (it knows how to swim), we date to distract ourself from ourself, we work grueling hours to avoid thoughts that creep into a quiet mind, we vagabond in self-imposed solitude to feel some direction is being followed.
But here’s the thing:
Sometimes we choose the wrong challenges. We distract ourselves with superfluous attainment.
We commit the work, the time, the self-loathing. But do you get what you want in the end? And for that matter, what do you want?
Example: I spent many years quietly telling myself I didn’t deserve to feel fulfilled. Not directly, of course, but somewhere in my psyche, I said it. And another sick voice answered, Prove it.
Web weaver of subconscious lies that I am, I accepted the challenge.
I pursued things that were supposedly fulfilling: more money, better fitness, successful career, tons of travel, being funny on stage, finding “the one.”
The game was nice and complex: I was overcoming challenges in a way that should’ve brought fulfillment, so when it didn’t, I was proving myself right—I must not deserve fulfillment!
But I wasn’t doing the right things. By society’s standards, maybe, but by my own? Nope.
Misguided throws won’t hit the target
Then I heard a quiet inside voice propose a different challenge: I should be a writer.
And as though a game of “hot/cold” had been going on inside me all along, suddenly all I could hear was “Warmer, hot, HOT, HOTTTT!”
Maybe fate intervened. Maybe it was me. But I accepted the challenge. Stepping with caution at first, my footing eventually grew stronger with the rise of a new feeling:
This challenge was right.
It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about? – Henry D. Thoreau
In embracing a challenge that would give me foundational fulfillment, I could release all the challenges pointlessly undertaken just to feel like I was doing something of value.
Of value to whom? I’m not sure. Maybe the glimmer god. It’s as though I believed that filling a Challenge Quota would be enough.
What are you really saying?
Maybe that first voice was actually saying, “You don’t deserve to feel fulfilled because you’re not pursuing what fulfills you.”
It had to keep pushing until I opened my eyes. You don’t train for tennis playing ping pong.
Another factor, I think, was the experience of 30 years lending confidence to the eventual belief that my brain could, in fact, create great things.
(I almost typed “good” there, but I caught myself!)
A still-more important part was learning to believe in my overall core worthiness. This ingredient has been both my strongest and shakiest foundation on the creative quest. It’s taken lots of books, therapy, mantras, and al anon, and continues to take consistent grappling.
Though where I stand today is often assaulted by self doubt, chasing the right challenge has streamlined things. There’s clarity with the focus. I no longer need pseudo challenges—acts of masochism—to gaslight myself from the fact that I’m not pursuing what I actually desire.
So, I’m allowing myself to move to Atlanta rather than stay in Oregon. I’m going to be with friends and family. Easy laughter and less solitude. I’m going to eat all the macaroni and cheese and BBQ and I’m going to speak with Southern flair and smile at strangers.
It’s okay to take the easy way out; I have nothing to prove—I’m already proving it.
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