How do you perceive challenge? Do you see it as something overwhelming, exhausting, and scary? And/or, do you see it as an opportunity for growth and reflection?

Challenges in life are everywhere. They are going to have a big impact on our life, no matter what. But what kind of impact? The kind that teaches us that we’re not good enough, and that it’s too hard? Or will they have the kind of impact that teaches us to grow, to overcome, and to rise?

Maya Angelou beautifully said “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

As you read through the following reflections by Dr. Rebecca Bailey, Jaycee Dugard, Margie McDonald, and Carmen Theobald consider what “challenge” means to you.

Reflections on “Challenge” from trauma therapist, Dr. Rebecca Bailey

I can honestly say that I have gotten through all of the challenges that I have committed to. I can’t judge whether the outcome was highly successful or just resolved. Either way, the challenges are behind me now. The truth is some challenges have been forgotten but one haunts my dreams. The gist is I am back in school revisiting my first unfinished pass at college. These dreams emerge in different iterations from having to go back to college and redo undergraduate work, or being stripped of my Ph.D. Apparently, in my unconscious, I never did return to school. Periodically I wake up believing I am headed back to undergraduate studies to begin the arduous climb back to becoming a psychologist.

These dreams come up, particularly when I am working on new or novel projects. When the status quo is the norm, the dream is non-existent. Typically, I wake up shaken, irritated, and confused. More than once I have felt resolved to get ready to pack my bags, ship out and rejoin my 20-year-old self. Ridiculous to even think about at my ancient age. But here’s the thing: after two or three days of agonizing over why the dream keeps coming up, I always end up with the same resolution. I remind myself I did it the first time, with honors, and certainly could do it again. Recently it dawned on me that my journey through school was an accomplishment I minimize. I remind myself that there was a point I thought “no way”, but kept pushing. I had a choice at that time and wrestled through it. Maybe that’s why the dream pops up.

The challenge I chose is the challenge that sticks out to me the most. In a world where so many challenges are unavoidable, perhaps it’s the challenges we choose that reflect what is most important to us, what is nearest to our heart, and where our strength lives. When we commit to climbing those metaphorical mountains, we deserve to celebrate just how far we’ve come, and what we are capable of.

Reflections on “Challenge” from trauma survivor, Jaycee Dugard

Challenges pop up in all aspects of my life it seems. Good or bad, it’s all in the way you look at them. In an earlier blog I mentioned I was experiencing a lot of fear in my riding. This was challenging me in a way I had not experienced before. Although I’ve been afraid many, many times in my life, this one seemed to be more acute. I had to work through the fear. Many times, I felt I would never be able to ride my horse without fear again. Today I can honestly say the fear is gone, and I am back to a place with my horse that feels good to both of us. The challenge for me was not just saying to myself “get over it and just do it”. The thing I had to do was slow down, acknowledge that something was going on in my body, and that my mind was interpreting it as fear. I needed to listen to myself and give myself permission to be afraid. However, I didn’t get stuck there. With the help of my trainer, riding friends and my horse, I slowly but surely got to a place where my body was able to relax in the saddle again. I feel that during times of challenge, it’s so important to remember your support system and the tools to overcome whatever you face. Listen to not only that voice in your head, but the message your body is sending you as well.

Reflections on “Challenge” from horse specialist, Margie McDonald

I like a challenge. Challenge forces me to see things in a new way, making me consider a different and unfamiliar perspective to a situation that is problematic or troubling. I like trying to understand why a horse may have a problem or issue with certain things that come up in their training program. Questions like: why is this horse uncomfortable loading into the trailer; why do they shy away from the blue tarp on the ground; why do they refuse to go into the far corner of the arena; along with many other situations. I enjoy finding the answers and helping these problems get solved. A challenge can often make me slowdown my thinking and look at the issue from the lens of a detective, wanting to know more and maybe, if I’m lucky, why and how can I influence change.

Reflections on “Challenge” from empowerment coach, Carmen Theobald

I appreciate the push that a challenge offers to me, but it can take me a moment to get there (or many moments, depending on the situation). It’s also much harder to do, especially on days where I’m feeling tired and worn down. My first response when I come up against some sort of challenge is so often “Ohhhhhh nooooo (or insert some string of curse words)!!!”, as though the day owed me some sort of easier passage.

And then, I laugh. I laugh kindly at myself, at my knee jerk reaction, at my momentary lapse in judgement about how the world “should” work. I think I need to allow myself that moment of unfiltered “this is terrible” to diffuse the pressure, and it also helps to see my ego, the part of me that thinks she should always be in control. When I can clearly see this other side, and after she’s said her piece, I can gently put my metaphorical arm around that side of myself and say to her “that’s a good one, and I get why you think this is the worst, but we’ll figure this out”.

Even when it’s really painful, it serves as a reminder that challenge is an invitation to learn more about myself, the world around me, and is an opportunity to grow into the person I want to become. I also believe the way we navigate challenge is like developing a muscle: we can get stronger, bit by bit, in how we choose to overcome.

Now it’s your turn!
What does “challenge” mean to YOU?