“If a man learns to love hard work, he will love all of life.” – John Crotts, Craftsmen
We have all heard the old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” There are a lot of cases where this isn’t true; a debilitating stroke, neuropathy, loss of limbs…you get the idea. Though it isn’t likely to be debated that trials build character. While any life will have it’s share of troubles, and we certainly shouldn’t go looking for more, most people will avoid even the slightest discomfort when possible. This leads to a lifestyle of passivity, where ease becomes a virtue, and tested character is traded for a weak mind, will, and body.
However, it is possible to develop the spirit a man of action ought to have. One that feels the pit of his belly cringe at a task, yet, knows how and wherefrom his courage may be mustered. One who desires to become a better man more than he desires to be comfortable.
The goal isn’t to win
In the context of this post, the goal for meeting challenges head-on isn’t necessarily to claim victory. In many cases there is no victory to be had. In a circumstance where it is necessary to confront a friend on an issue such as infidelity or addiction, it is not likely to end in an immediate resolution or leave you feeling good about your actions. The goal would be to confront wrong doing with truth, grace, love, and patience. Likewise, if you find yourself on the other end of correction, to handle it with forthrightness and self-control. One of the measures of character is how well you handle adversity or admiration. The objective is walking out the situation with integrity and honor. Win or loose, we can always measure ourselves against these virtues, and we can always improve.
Recognize discomfort, then Man Up
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.” – Dale Carnegie
We’ve all been there. Maybe this is a regular occurrence in your life. Someone says something that you disagree with. A person needs encouragement. It’s time to start waking up early and hitting the gym. You want to ask your boss for a raise. You need help sorting out a frustrating time in your life or just need someone to talk to. In these moments you feel a nudge in the back of your stomach, but you push it down, and a few minutes later it’s not quite there…until you are faced with the situation again or think back on it at a later date. What you may not realize is that a neural pathway is actually formed and fine tuned each time you wimp out. Our bodies make it harder for us to “man up” when it’s important because we have spent years mastering inaction. We know 1,000 ways to cheat out of a situation.
That moment of nudging by your conscience is the exact moment when a decision has to be made. A decision to break with your typical reaction and step into the uncomfortable. Your brain and instinct will fight you on it. This is what makes courage so valuable. A man’s heart and will has to win out over his other senses. Slowly, you will form new pathways which make it easier, even desirous, to seek new challenges, and best of all you will gain confidence and wisdom which will aid you through later obstacles.
Types of Challenges to step into
If you know anyone that has gone through a significant transformation, such as loosing weight or overcoming an infirmity through diligent exercise, you have likely also noticed more changed than just their outward appearance. There is typically a vitality and confidence that accompanies them. No doubt there is a new energy due to the physical changes, however, they have also gained confidence in themselves.
Whether going from Couch to 5K, changing your diet, or upping your existing routine, physical challenges are a great starting point to move into the uncomfortable. They are non-controversial (no one will argue that exercise is stupid) and success in this area can encourage you to step into others.
Stepping up to these challenges requires a lot of patience. You can’t just trudge through it. Typically you are dealing with another person or a group of people. Maybe there is a conversation you need to have with your wife or children. Maybe you need to talk to your parents about boundaries now that you are raising a family of your own. Maybe a buddy is taking a wrong turn in life and he needs someone to set him straight. Whatever the case, this is the area that is most often avoided because they can get pretty messy fairly quickly and an attempt to help can be turned back on you. Your natural responses that rise up, and how to temper them, is what to watch for. If stepping into someone’s life, make sure you are motivated by the right reasons.
Controversial Topic Challenges
There is a serious lack of conversation about sensitive, politically correct issues. In a day of 140 character tweets as a form of communication, and impersonal blasts of opinions on blogs and Facebook, debating or dialoguing is becoming much more of a foreign concept. Even asking a challenging question to a person can often be seen as an attack. Perhaps you have been in this very situation. Someone challenges your beliefs or thoughts on a matter and you find yourself unable to clearly articulate your stance. This would lead most to avoid getting into the situation in the first place by checking their opinions and beliefs at the door. However, placing yourself in a position to be challenged over a controversial topic, such as homosexuality, religion, politics, second amendment rights, etc., actually helps you to be better prepared to articulate and defend your point of view. It may even lead to changing your mind. Keeping your cool when being barraged with emotionally charged put-downs, keeping control of the conversation, and ending with the relationship in-tact (if not improved) are goals of this challenge. Also, be sure to follow-up and let the person know that their comments gave you something to think about, if indeed that is the case. Letting the other person know that the conversation was helpful may encourage them to openly discuss such topics with you in the future.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln
We not only need to be tested in adversity but also in our achievements. Success generally brings accolades and new attention which can lead to pride. On the other hand, a lack of recognition for a job well done can cause us to reevaluate where our self worth stems from. The greater or more visible the success, the harder these challenges become.
Seeking challenges is all about finding situations that test our character. It takes time and reflection for the lessons to sink in. It’s not necessary to go it alone to gain the benefits. When possible, seek wisdom during a trying time. However, it will take a good deal of gumption and faith which are things only you can bring to the task at hand.