Growing Through Challenge – And Maybe Redefining Yourself

In his book, The Trouble With Being Born, E.M. Cioran argues that disaster lies not in the prospect of death, but rather in being born. From the time we enter this world, our central purpose is to find out why. This existential pressure follows us throughout life, at every turn asking the question: What are you here to do?

The answer is not easy, nor is it stable. It is, however, as Cioran notes, the heart of the human experience. That existential pressure is not easy to overcome might just the point. In Abraham Maslow’s view, the highest achievement a person can reach – and also the most developed need, is self-actualization. It is through the realization and embodiment of our potential that we reach the pinnacle of our existence.

That challenge is needed to reach our most supreme potential is something we often forget. Lost in the woes of our day, the frustrations of not getting what we want, and the injustice of witnessing others get what we don’t think they deserve, it is easy to despise challenge. It is easy to ask the question: What is the use of this?

One reason why challenges are challenging is because they violate our beliefs. People should not be allowed to cheat. We should be treated fairly. We should be compensated evenly for the work we do. The problem, however, is that many of these beliefs just don’t measure up. The world is imperfect, and it is also not predictable.

To endorse our beliefs wholeheartedly, therefore is a setup. We will be disappointed. We will become frustrated, angry, and resentful. Without challenge, our faulty beliefs would continue to perpetuate throughout our lives only leading to more misgivings about the way the world really works.

This is what Tim Harford, the author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, calls a fitness landscape. Imagine a savannah that is not flat but rather filled with hills and valleys, and some steep mountains too. As you move toward the highest peak, the peak begins to move and another begins to rise. Suddenly the direction you were going is wrong. Enter the digital age – being a radio show host seemed relevant. Now it pales in comparison to the multitude of podcasters, like Joe Rogan, who are followed by more people than most radio stations combined.

It is a changing and unpredictable world. This reality can represent challenge but accepting it can represent adaptation. When we accept that to learn to adapt, we must not avoid challenge, but rather move eagerly toward it, we have begun.

We have also learned a powerful lesson. Challenges are what we make of them. They are either the ingredients of improvement, or they are the signs of growth avoided.

Think for a minute if I asked you solve a complex problem. Sales for your products have taken a nosedive because newer, better products have entered the market and yours is now obsolete. Solving this problem would require the willingness to try something different, the belief that you have the capacity to improve, and the faith, or trust, or whatever you want to call it to continue despite having no guarantee that whatever new product you develop will sell.

You may try several times. You may fail several times. And as Einstein said, you may have found 10,00 ways that don’t work. But stumbling from failure to failure is also how we find success. Failure, then, is only the lack of willingness to continue.

Without challenge there would be no failure and no success. Measuring success would also be impossible. Because to succeed we must have something to achieve. Achievements are, by their very nature, the success of challenge. We have succeeded to be better than we were before. We have learned a new skill, developed a new product, become faster, more agile, and more adept at navigating a changing world. But we first must accept that the world is changing, and with that brings challenge. And we must also accept that challenge is exactly what we need when we want to improve.