Thursday, December 1, 2011

On Challenges

This weekend my flight from New Orleans to Portland got diverted to Boston at 1am. After a day of flying, I was, unsurprisingly, exhausted and miserable, sitting on the plane waiting to go into the airport, bracing myself to haggle with airline employees, wondering if I'd be forced to find and pay for a hotel room at such a late hour, and dreading the early morning flight that was sure to come the next day. It sucked. But, as I've done many times in the past year, I composed myself with this thought "You can handle this. You ran a marathon and that was much harder than this!"
 My marathon helped me drive for three days straight when I moved to Maine. It helped me climb Katahdin. It's been there through numerous travel days spent sprinting through airports desperately trying to make my flights. This accomplishment has given me a wellspring of strength and confidence to draw on whenever things get tough.
My marathon isn't the only challenge I've met that makes me feel this way. Climbing Katahdin and writing a novel (during NANOWRIMO a few years ago) give me similar feelings of strength and accomplishment. And it's not about being really good at something or having fun the entire time.  My marathon time wasn't that fast, Katahdin isn't that high of a peak, and my novel is terrible. Writing my novel was at times tedious and frustrating, Katahdin was exhausting, painful, and sometimes scary, and parts of my marathon were incredibly painful.  The reason that these experiences are important to me is that I chose to do something that I  knew would be really hard and I stuck with it until the end. From that I gained a better awareness of my own capabilities and the confidence that comes with toughing something out.
I've had to endure bad situations in my life in the past (high school, grad school, divorce...) and I am definitely proud of how strong I had to be to get through those times. But I have so many negative emotions tied up with those experiences that it's not a good idea for me to give myself a pep talk that goes "You can do this! This isn't nearly as bad as being bullied in high school!" If I thought about stuff like that when I was already tired and miserable, I'd probably just start crying.
But having ready examples of times when I faced challenges head on and came out smiling makes all the difference. This is one of the many reasons I love to challenge myself. I'm thankful for my lousy flight this weekend because it reminded me of this benefit of choosing to challenge myself. Now I just need to decide what my next challenge will be!

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