Each time I get an assignment, I hope that it makes me a little bit nervous. That it’s a little bit beyond what’s comfortable or what’s easy for me. That’s how I know I’ll do my best work, and that’s how I know I’ll enjoy it the most.
This is a paraphrased thought from a close friend of mine back in February. She was getting ready to head over to Afghanistan. Thus, she was participating in a series of mandatory pre-deployment trainings. She confided in me that part of the “fun” of traveling overseas, especially to a high-risk area, was the training. It pushed her, challenged her, and ultimately brought out the best in her. It made her happy, because she could sense herself growing from the challenge.
What’s interesting is that this friend of mine is proficient at many different things. She is talented in a variety of areas and has numerous professional and personal strengths. However, it’s the new content – the non-proficient areas, the areas of weakness, which she finds so fulfilling, simply because they are areas in which she understands her own room for growth.
This coincided with another blog article I read from world-renowned bouncer/bodyguard/martial artist/screenwriter/self-help coach, Geoff Thompson. While the entire article is very much worth a read (I read it again before I sat down to share these thoughts), the gist of it is this: no matter how difficult something lookson the outside to others, and no matter how hard it USED to be for you, if it’s no longer stretching you, challenging you, or causing you to re-evaluate your priorities, then you’re not really in the arena.
Your growth is directly linked to your willingness to pursue progress in areas that don’t come easily to you.
I have another friend who is training to get more proficient with sparring, specifically because her past experiences have caused this to be an extremely scary, even traumatic experience. Having known professional fighters, I can say that she is accomplishing more with each of her half-hour, light sparring sessions than most MMA fighters do in months.
A few weeks ago, yet another friend finally decided and articulated a dollar amount to her annual business goals. This was extremely scary for her, because it required her to agree to her own self-worth and capacity for real-world accomplishment. It also opened her up to the accountability of actually pursuing with abandon the goal she had just stated. To me, she just took a bigger step of growth than most of the multi-millionaires I’ve ever met.
I have yet another friend (who knew I had so many friends?) who is a federal law enforcement agent. He is a SWAT officer for a federal agency, and a talented marksman. He started training in Krav Maga several months ago specifically because he wasn’t naturally talented at it.
I’ve talked with Special Operations military personnel who have faced down hardship on multiple continents. They’ve seen the worst of combat and persevered. They’ve spent many nights without food, shelter, or sleep. They’ve saved lives and taken lives. Their biggest fear? Talking to their children.
Some face this fear and thrive as a result. Some avoid it and die alone as a result.
I’ve become acquainted with professional athletes of multiple sports, including Olympians. They’ve invested more hours in perfecting their minds and bodies for competition than any ten people I know.
You know what keeps them up nights? Having a career-ending injury, or simply growing too old to keep up. Some face this fear and expand their options. Other live in bitterness and resentment, with their best days behind them.
Whenever I watch anything entertaining – televised sports, movies, regular TV shows, I always wonder about the star athlete/actor/actress/director – What kind of spouse are they? What kind of parent? What kind of friend? Do they have time for these things, or are they immersed in being really great at the one thing that has sort of always come easiest to them?
All this hit home for me last May. I had worked for and attained an accomplishment that to the rest of the world may have sounded impressive. A myriad of factors came together, however, to make the whole endeavor quite anti-climactic. Impressive to others? Sure, I guess so. But I knew better. It was just a short step further down a long path I had been on for quite some time. It played to my strengths.
While I’d like to think I earned the reward, it didn’t require me to face much of my own fears, weakness, or insufficiencies. To quote the Geoff Thompson article, it was “difficult easy”.
And the interesting thing was on some level I KNEW it. The logistical frustrations and personality issues that are inherent in any large organization or event were magnified, and the actual accomplishment was minimized. Truth be told, it was quite unfulfilling – and not because of any of those externals. It was unfulfilling because it didn’t demand that I reckon with myself. It didn’t take all of me. There was no victory over any deeply entrenched weakness or deficiency. It wasn’t transformative. It didn’t change me for the better.
So, with this abiding dissatisfaction coming into clearer and clearer focus, you know what I did? I went to another local gym, signed a membership, and started asking about swimming lessons. I did this for a few reasons:
1) I’m well below average as a swimmer
2) I’ve almost drowned a few different times in my life, partly because of #1
3) #2 reinforced and solidified #1, and unless I took drastic action, it would stay a permanent and glaring Achilles’ heel.
I started taking a few lessons with a former Navy diver who knew enough about Krav Maga to appreciate what I’ve accomplished so far, but who knew enough about swimming to see how truly awful I was. It was frustrating. Exhausting. Embarrassing. At times, humiliating. It was also very fulfilling.
At this point in the story, it would be very poetic and fitting to flash forward a year or two. If it were a movie it would probably show a training montage with an 80’s rock ballad playing in the background.
After a few cinematic cuts and strained close-ups of how hard I was working, it would show hard-fought improvement and I’d approach expertise as a swimmer. This scene would culminate in either me competing in an open-water race, or heroically save a family from drowning while navigating shark-infested waters. Or maybe both. At the same time. If it were directed by Michael Bay, I would simultaneously win the race while saving the family while aliens were bombing the beach and I defeat the aliens and then a huge American flag raises up from the background and Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone (maybe Mickey Rourke) would have a cameo as the grizzled-but-still-has-it coach and…
But that’s not what happened.
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original; whereas if you simply try to tell the truth, without caring twopence how often it’s been told before, you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. –CS Lewis
In the interest of trying to tell the truth, I stopped after three sessions. The emotional (not the physical) drain of facing all that gave me just enough of the “these-excuses-sound-legit-but-I-really-know-what’s- going-on” type mindset that I dropped off. Yes, I hope to go back. Yes, I know that I’m supposed to inspire and encourage. But I’m not going to do that by painting a poetic (and false) picture.
So I know what I need to do. And I plan to do it.
Do you know what would be difficult-difficult for you? What would truly represent an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and train/fight/work/learn to curb your weaknesses, rather than simply highlight your strengths? Are you really interested in being content doing things that only look truly difficult from the outside?