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Six years ago, I posted this little piece of profundity on a social media page.
It popped up as a “memory” today:
“This weekend, George rode 48 miles, 5 hours on his mountain bike. I spent 2 days in an advanced yoga intensive. We both experienced joy, pain, challenge, confidence, fear, spirit, and so much more. For him, it took an expanse of two counties. I found it all on one little yoga mat.”
Reading my own words caused me to reflect on the importance of personal challenges. Whether we’re taking on something grand or relatively minor, when we take on something that sits on the edge of our perceived ability, we awaken the giant within—for a given moment in time, we become our own hero.
It feels exhilarating to challenge our boundaries and step our game up to the next level. To look, with admiration, at the reflection in the mirror and give ourselves that well-deserved pat on the back—that’s a precious gift.
Most of us live our lives in the rhythm of our routines. Whatever rut we’re in, we’re often so consumed with the business of simply living, we can barely peek up and out of that rut, let alone muster the forward momentum to get out of it.
Maybe that routine looks like this: go to work, go to the gym, tend to the kids, feed the family. Repeat.
Or maybe like this: go to school. Get a degree. Choose a career. Work. Work. Work.
Even like this: new relationship. Failed relationship. New relationship. Failed relationship. Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat.
We’re not just at the mercy of our manifest routines. Our negative thought patterns also create rabbit holes we fall into. They might sound something like this: “I was a fool to make that mistake. I’m stupid. I’m worthless. I’ll never be good enough.” Ouch.
These patterns are often called our comfort zone, but let’s face it, we are rarely comfortable in that zone of routine. In fact, we’re often miserable.
We may not be able to entirely escape the routines of life, but we can do some pretty awesome things to challenge our inner giant. And those things don’t have to be big, grand gestures. Sometimes the moments of personal greatness come all mixed up in the minutia of daily life. But every time we step up to the challenge, we stand a little taller, our chest puffs out a little fuller. It feels so good to feel proud of our own efforts.
I took on a moment of greatness when I entered my first mountain bike race.
I had never been athletically inclined. Learning to mountain bike was something I took on in my 50s, and I was clearly not a natural at it. I suffered lots of crashes and broken bones before I really found my balance on the bike. When I decided to take on the challenge of entering a race, it was tremendously scary. There was the possibility of injury, failure, humiliation—you name it, the fear was there. But I pushed through and actually took home a podium trophy. Geez, that felt incredible. I was so proud of myself.
This moment of achievement gave me something even more precious. On that day, I finally claimed the title Mountain Biker.
“I am a mountain biker,” I thought. Claiming that for myself gave me license to go for rides by myself, explore the beauty of canyons and mountain ranges. I forged a new and glorious relationship with nature. And I continued to step up my riding skills.
That’s the thing about challenging oneself: the pride in accomplishment opens the door to more bravery, more joy, and expanded confidence.
I can think of so many moments of greatness I’ve witnessed in friends. I’ve seen them doing the hard work of overcoming addiction, training for a marathon, leaving a failed marriage. I’ve seen them taking on a job they weren’t qualified to do, then killing it, committing to a rigorous spiritual practice and keeping it up for a year, or simply getting out of bed each day to push through depression.
I love the term “personal best” because it connotes the idea of pushing oneself through that swampy, boggy ground of routine and reaching for something a little more expansive. We’re not challenging someone else, we’re challenging ourselves, and that, in itself, can sometimes be the most heroic act of all.
There are challenges that help us grow physically, make us emotionally stronger, bump up our mental acumen, and even grow more spiritually enlightened. Each has its own unique set of fears to push through, doubts to overcome, pain to endure. Each has the ability to give us newfound confidence and gift us with an experience of extraordinary joy.
If I’ve inspired you to move beyond your routine and challenge yourself to personal greatness, here are some steps that can help get you started.
Think of the dreams you have dreamt for yourself.
Maybe you want to finish that degree or train to become a yoga teacher. Kick an addiction? Travel to a foreign country? Train for a marathon? Finally, make an appointment to begin therapy. Start a non-profit. Join the peace corps. Learn to swim. Ask that cute barista for a first date.
It doesn’t matter how grand or quiet your dream is; it’s yours, and it is important.
You’ve likely tucked many of your dreams away, but one will bubble up to grab your attention now.
Choose the one that makes your heart race and make a start.
Ask yourself what you might do to achieve this dream. What steps do you need to take? What resources will you need? Who will be on your team of supporters?
When I started mountain biking, I had to take it in small steps. I had fellow bikers who were my teachers. I had people cheering me up each and every hill and metaphorically holding my hand through every obstacle and down every descent. I cried many tears of frustration and defeat. That old adage, “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again,” became my mantra because it took many failures before I was finally able to ride elegantly. I had to walk the razor’s edge of being compassionate with myself while kicking myself in the butt to just keep trying.
Make a plan and create appropriate steps to move forward.
You’ve visualized your dream coming true. Now you get to look your fears in the eye and move forward in spite of them. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t a little scared. Stand on that balance beam of compassion and butt-kicking, and go for it.
Do some research and discover what it will take to make the first step—and then the next, and the next. Make a solid plan for yourself and follow your plan.
Go on, pull yourself out of that rut and awaken your giant within. Challenge yourself. Take on that dream. Become your own hero.