Challenges help mold our character and contribute to our growth and development as individuals. Sometimes challenges can seem more like burdens. What if we changed our perspective and began looking at them as new opportunities? Perhaps challenges are the gateway to new and exciting transitions in our lives? Dr. Steven Joseph is a leading expert in positive psychology and a pioneer in the field of psychological trauma. According to Dr. Joseph,
“In everyday life we will be faced every so often with important decisions such as whether to take on a new challenge, like applying for a new job or starting a new course. Taking on such challenges is an important part of growing and developing as a person. The more we can test our limits and capabilities the more we will learn about ourselves. New challenges are opportunities for us.”
Accepting Challenges as Gateways to a Better Self
It may be difficult to see things from this perspective, particularly when we’re “in the moment.” After all, no one enjoys struggling or feeling stressed. However, challenges are a lot like fertilizer for a healthy soil. This soil is made from various ingredients that few people appreciate on their own, but when combined they create a surprisingly nourishing environment. From this, some of the most beautiful creations can manifest. Likewise, in our own lives and experiences, challenges can provide the fertilizer from which we grow and thrive as individuals.
Embarking on a new challenge is almost always frightening, and understandably so! When we allow fear of failure to consume us we may make a habit of avoiding challenge altogether. After all, we can’t fail if we don’t try, right? Life in the shadow of fear is hardly fulfilling, just like a barren plot of land when compared with a beautiful garden. The latter requires considerably more work, particularly in maintenance and upkeep, but the rewards far outweigh the cost of the toil. By comparison, the barren plot of land requires little to no work whatsoever, but the results of that neglect are self-evident. Our lives are as beautiful and rich in variety of experiences as we make them. But first, we must understand that challenge is a necessary part of the bargain.
Avoiding Challenges is Not the Answer
Dr. Joseph says that “staying in your comfort zone out of fear is not always exactly comfortable. By avoiding challenge, we don’t have the opportunities to learn about ourselves. We feel trapped as if we were leading a life that is not true to ourselves.” In fact, in many cases, avoiding challenge altogether causes just as much anxiety and fear as facing the challenge in the first place. This is because most of our fear comes from anticipation: the dread of something happening. By facing our fears and challenges head-on, we significantly reduce the opportunity for anticipatory anxiety. We are essentially telling ourselves “I’m going to do it, get it over with, and put my fears behind me.” Obviously this doesn’t mean acting without caution, but there is a great difference between behaving cautiously and hesitating to the point of avoidance.
Challenges are Opportunities
Challenges are not just obstacles, but opportunities. They can initiate change or inspire innovation. Dr. Joseph explains that “to lead an authentic life, we need to take on new challenges that stretch us and give us more opportunities to be ourselves.” This doesn’t mean living without fear. In fact, he suggests that authentic people do, in fact, feel fear, just like everyone else, the only thing that sets them apart is that they aren’t willing to let the fear control them. Rather, they face their fears, and come out stronger and wiser as a result.
Everyone has the opportunity to live authentically, just as we all have the opportunity to make choices and face our fears. A common misconception is that we have to do so alone, but there are numerous resources at our disposal to help us in surmounting personal challenges. Friends and family provide a supportive foundation on which we can rely to carry us through difficult times. In other cases, a therapist can also be a helpful ally in facing day-to-day obstacles both internal and external. Everyone feels fear, but we are also capable of overcoming that fear, and taking control of our own lives and choices. In this way, fear can transform into a kind of enthusiasm, from which we can learn to engage with our challenges and ultimately learn from them.