The older I get, the more relevant this episode of the Simpsons becomes… In The Secret War of Lisa Simpson, Lisa decides to undergo bootcamp at Military School with her brother Bart. This is a challenge in itself, but it is even more difficult for Lisa because, as the only girl at Military School, she is an outcast–viewed as an interloper by her peers. In order to complete the term, students pass the physical fitness test known as “The Eliminator”. “In the Commandant’s own words, it’s a ‘150 foot hand-over-hand crawl across a 60 gauge Hemp-Jute line with a blister factor of 12. The rope is suspended a full 40 feet over a solid British acre of Old Growth Connecticut Valley Thorn Bushes'” (via…). During one of her many secret training sessions with Bart, she was ready to give up entirely. And then this happened:
Lisa: “Yeah, a challenge I could do!”
This resonated with me because A) I found it funny and B) I found it funny because there is so much truth to that scene. Most people say they enjoy challenging themselves, but often I feel that we opt for challenges that we can do (like taking a difficult class but a subject you’re skilled in). I like challenges for the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing them. There’s nothing wrong with that; but lately, I’ve been doing some self reflection and have realized I’ve gotten into some bad habits by subconsciously subscribing to this challenges I can do philosophy.
1) I modify challenges to make them something I can accomplish.
My 365 Haiku project is a perfect example of this. For this project I was suppose to be write one haiku per day because I figured this way, everyday, I’d be sitting down and writing poetry. But I wasn’t keeping up so I decided just having 365 Haikus by the end of 2013 was okay. Now, it’s been weeks since I’ve written for it because I lowered the bar for myself.
2) I give up (as if that’s better than failure)
My “read one hour a day” goal is a textbook example of giving up. I kept this up for about 1 month… maybe 2 months. During that time I made so much progress in my own recreational reading, but it was hard. Eventually, I missed so many hours that I just said fuck it. I’ve read for fun since then but I haven’t actively sat down and said “I’m going to read for the next hour”. When I mentioned this to my brother he said, “well why don’t you start again now”, at the point I just muttered some lame excuse and talked about what I’d do next year. Which was, in all honesty, pretty wack of me.
3) I don’t make improvements because the process is too embarrassing (or intimidating).
I’m pretty good at putting myself out there, but that’s really only because my comfort zones include some pretty broad situations: like public speaking. But when it comes to more sensitive issues, I tend to avoid them. I still have not learned to drive because I have a crippling fear that I will hurt myself and/or other. I want to improve my spanish but as a Latina who was not raised bilingual I am embarrassed by my American accent, horrid grammar, and lack of vocabulary. Rather, than face these issues. I just sweep them under the rug even when it inevitably makes me trip over.
If I only take on challenges I can do, they’re not truly challenges. It’s not a test of my abilities if I’m playing it safe. Similar to drug addiction and alcoholism, I think acknowledging that I have a problem is the first step. Now it’s time for action. The hardest thing about personal goals is that they’re not mandatory; it’s not something I will turn into anyone at the end of the year. It’s all about personal accountability (something I struggle with at times). As far as my fears, I just have to get over them. The only way for me to get over my American accent and my fear of driving is to improve my Spanish and learn how to drive. After I do that, I won’t be intimidated by those things anymore. Which is the hard (but necessary) part.
Here’s to taking on challenges
I can do.