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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Joy of Difficult

We can all recite our parents’ mantras growing up:

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
“If it isn’t a challenge, you won’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything.”
“Success is its own reward.”

And my personal favorite (The one I taped to my son’s desk):
“If you don’t have time to do it right, how will you ever find time to do it over?”

Well, here’s a little secret: our parents didn’t know that stuff until they were grown up. Even though their parents probably told them the same things, they didn’t really believe it until they had some years, experience, and challenges under their belts. And by the way, they are right.

I think about this more and more in my sixth decade, when things suddenly seem to be harder than they should. So when the going gets tough, do the tough get going, or go shopping? It’s about keeping our comfort zones large. Every time we pass on doing something because it’s hard or scary or we think we might fail, if we listen carefully, we can hear our comfort zone shrinking. Before we know it, our little lives have been shrink-wrapped.

If, instead, we push ourselves into something that scares us a little, and we actually do it, there is, just like our parents said, a sense of accomplishment—and competence. I travel a lot. Now, I could listen to CNN and get all scared and stay home, or I could take calculated risks and see wondrous things most people only dream about. Yes, something bad could happen, but if I take reasonable precautions and, as my dad has always advised, ‘leave the back door open’, I think the risks are worth taking.

But let’s get this straight: If we want an excuse for underperformance, we don’t have to look far. Here’s a big what-if: what if we weren’t allowed to use excuses? What if we had sisters, like I do, who won’t ever let me play the age card? What if we had to own all our own decisions, good or bad? Then when we succeeded, we could pat ourselves on the back. If we failed, then we could look at our decision, whap ourselves on the forehead, and not make that mistake again. Wow! Way different than being given a trophy just for showing up! Sometimes, life hurts, but if we own it, it doesn’t hurt as much as if we abdicate all our decisions to someone else.

Gosh, I just climbed a 14,000-foot mountain and it was really hard. I fell down and scraped up my shin, and the next day, I was sore all over. Ouch! But I got to the top and saw an incredible vista that so few people ever get to see, because I did the work and made it! And here I am, a girl with a senior citizen discount. Ouch again! And good for me.