Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Improg word: Challenge

To the hundreds of dozens of five people reading this: Please feel free to leave a comment. I read a lot of blogs and leave almost no comments, but now that I have blogs of my own, I would love to know who’s stopping by. If you’ve got nothing to say, just tell me what the weather’s like where you are or what you had on your toast this morning.

The first slip of paper I pulled out of Hayley’s envelope this morning said, “Hi Susan! Have a great day!” Somehow, even from 1200 miles away, Hayley knows when I need a cheerful wave. It also said, “Pick another one!” so I’m not off the hook.

Today, Hayley has challenged me to write about challenge. Appropriate, because it’s been a very challenging week so far (and it’s only Tuesday morning).

Of course, language nerd that I am, the first thing I did was look up the meanings of challenge. There are several, including “a call to engage in a contest or fight,” “a demand for an explanation,” “a test of abilities,” and “a demanding but stimulating situation.” It was the last one that had come to mind when I pulled out the improg slip.

It seems to me that, like grin and bear it, even this single definition of challenge has different connotations; it can have a negative twist or a more positive one. There’s the what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger kind of challenge—something that you endure.

One mother on the playground: “See that boy covering his sister in bark mulch? He’s a very challenging child from what I’ve heard. He once had to go to the emergency room because he’d stuffed green beans up his nose.”

Second mother: “I’m sure glad he’s not mine.”

There’s the just-getting-through-every-day category: figuring out how to get your kids to their conflicting activities when time travel isn’t an option; preparing a meal that includes at least one item that each member of your household is willing to eat; finding a new winter coat for the child who was disorganized enough to have a growth spurt in January, when the stores are stocking flip flops and bathing suits despite the fact that it’s still winter. These are not so much stimulating or negative as just necessary (but still difficult).

Then there’s the exciting-opportunity-for-growth kind of challenge—something that you embrace. Maybe you’ve challenged yourself to paint an 8-foot-square mural of your stamp collection or to break the world record for hula hooping. These kinds of challenges aren’t easy (they wouldn’t be challenges if they were) and perhaps not every minute of them is enjoyable, but you undertake them because you want the experience or the results.

Right now my life is all about challenge—good and bad, voluntary and involuntary. In the green-beans-up-the-nose-category are a couple of personal situations that I probably won’t be writing about here (they’re personal, after all). There’s not really any way to look at these challenges as stimulating. Demanding, yes. A test of my abilities, yes. But not stimulating, unless you count being so stressed that you tear your own hair out as stimulating.

Then there’s the middle category: learning to improve my work scheduling, driving in the snow (this used to be a green-bean challenge for me, but I’m improving), finding time to get the housework done before we are all killed in a terrible dust avalanche.

Last year I realized that most of the challenges I faced were of these two types. My life was more about endurance than enjoyment or growth. So I actively set out to find some embraceable challenges. Some I made up myself: the Year of Living Differently, which is part of my Getting My Shit Together Project, is full of them. Some, like this improg project, were the ideas of others (usually Hayley). And the green-bean challenges, while negative in themselves, are proving to be a source of more positive challenges, like learning to take care of myself in the midst of a difficult situation and to take control of the things I have control over and leaving the rest alone.

I’ve learned from watching someone I know that if you live without embraceable challenges, your whole life can become an endurance challenge. And I’m learning through my own experience that once you start looking for and embracing positive challenges again, even the negative ones get easier.

1 comment:

Hayley Townley, Breast Cancer Survivor Extraordinaire! said...

I am constantly amazed at the words I wrote down for you to write about. And I am also constantly amazed that you can write about everything so well! Of course, I always love it when you mention my name in your blogs.