Last night I was reading Ender's Game, which means that I'm way behind the times, since everyone else seemed to read it in high school. In the book, at least as far as I've gotten, the military leaders set up an increasing ladder of challenges for Ender. Each one is designed to be the exact difficulty that Ender can handle without breaking. I thought about how nice that must be.
It's good to have challenges in life. People think they want the easy life, but when they actually get it, no one ever wants it for long. Our entire existence is based on a series of ancestors who have pushed through very difficult challenges, many of which probably pushed the boundaries of their abilities. Overcoming challenges is very literally in our genes.
Ender got perfect challenges delivered to him. That's an ideal situation. In school we get challenges, but they're calibrated for a body of students, not an individual student. The likelihood of a school challenge being the appropriate difficulty for maximum growth is very small. If you have a good boss and are in a field that requires skill, your job might provide an appropriate level of challenge. If you're independent, you have to create your own challenges. Even if you're being challenged at an appropriate level in one area, that leaves all of the other areas of life up for grabs.
In other words, it's up to you to create your own challenges in life. I don't mean that you should cut off your leg so that you can experience the challenge of learning to walk with one leg, but I mean that in order to grow as a person, you have evaluate your options through the lens of determining what will challenge you at the right level.
A real life example: yesterday I was talking with my friend Olivia, and she recommended that I try ecstatic dance. Right off the bat, that sounds like something I would hate to do. You go into a room with a bunch of people, most of whom I presume are new age hippies, and you dance wildly for an hour and a half. This is terrifying to me. I don't like dancing, not because I don't think it's fun, but because it's a form of self expression that, frankly, I'm totally uncomfortable with. Even though dancing is "easy", for me to go to the class is a big challenge. I'd rather be told I have to write a whole book than go to the class. If I didn't have a challenge-oriented mindset, I would easily dismiss the class. But because a trusted friend suggested it to me and because I'm terrified to do it, I'm going to go.
Another example. When I'm programming, I'll come to a tough point where my first inclination is to scrap the feature and work on something else. If I go with what I feel like doing, I do a lot less than when I think critically about where the task lies within my skillset. Often times I'll realize that, like Ender, it's about the toughest thing I could do, so even though I don't feel like doing it, I crack open my editor and get to work.
Really this concept is a subset of the overarching idea/fact that you alone are responsible for your life. Your successes are yours, your failures are yours, and the course you plot is yours alone. If you want to reach your peak potential, you must be challenged. And if you want to be challenged, you have to take responsibility for that process. Think about it-- can you think of a single person who constantly challenges himself, makes a solid effort to meet those challenges, yet doesn't have a good life? I can't.
I wrote this months ago... and ended up doing the ecstatic dance. Interesting experience, but haven't gone back.
Just released a big visual update to SETT! New theme coming soon, too.