Some words are not good or bad but float somewhere in the middle depending on the context of the situation. What thoughts come to mind when you hear the word challenging? Positive, negative, neutral or it depends?

How do each of these “challenging” statements feel to you?

For John, just the day-to-day routines of life were challenging.

Mary functioned better at work when she had challenging projects to deliver.

The coach was always challenging the players to be better.

The years ahead will be challenging for those entering the job market.

Clearly, how the word is used has a lot to do with how we react to a challenging situation. Some might think that a life without challenges would be ideal. Others need even desire the push of a solid challenge. Both positions make sense but as with just about anything, too much is too much and too little is too little.

Let’s go very basic. We need strong, healthy muscles to function in our daily life. Muscles must exercise, they need resistance to stay strong, which is to say we need to challenge our body. Exercise is a challenge in the form of use. Without regular use, muscles atrophy. So on one extreme the challenge to our body is essential to our existence.

At the other extreme, we know that the body and the mind break down when pushed beyond certain healthy limits. Being overly challenged, overly stressed and overworked, the body cannot sustain and replenish itself.

Quite clearly balance is the key. In this case, balance is a lot about knowing when we are being challenged and dealing with that challenge in the context of our entire life.

What are your current challenges?

Are these challenges ongoing, or perhaps are they limited in time? Will they go away or lessen in the future? How are you dealing with these challenges? Have you taken steps in other areas of your life to lessen the demands on you to face your current challenges? Do you have support in facing a challenging time in your life?

I want to deal with the idea of support by telling you a story that completely changed my understanding of facing a challenge with support. I also began to rethink the idea of a relationship after I let this tale sink in.

Visiting a major city for a convention and some customer interface, I had time to visit with an old college friend. She invited me to her home but mentioned that her husband would not be joining us; this surprised me because her hubby had also been a good friend back at college.

After a glass of wine, she told me that they were in a very challenging time in their professional careers. I knew they both had some long-term plans, he to get his Securities Certification and her to finish law school. What I discovered was that they had laid out a five-year plan for their marriage.

First, they got married; I was at the wedding. At the time of their nuptials, they both had good jobs, in fact, very high-paying positions, but they each wanted something more. Hence, their five-year plan. They had worked out a schedule to keep their jobs and their salaries,while working towards their long-term goals.

When I visited, they were nearly four years into the plan and had hit a huge bump in the road, which required some creative rethinking of their perfect plan. Five years had been an ideal, but recently they understood it was just too challenging to be reasonable.

He suddenly had a major project at work turn into a rush job with a deadline six months earlier than anticipated. They took a full weekend to rethink and rewrite their plan. Turning into a six-year plan, which they launched with what they called “a month of craziness.”

When I arrived, they were in the middle of a month-long “vacation” from her job. They hadn’t had time for an actual vacation, so she had several years of time accumulated. During her “month off” she ran their life completely. She shopped, she cooked, she cleaned, she ran all the errands and, most importantly, she completed her final two courses for law school.

The husband worked twelve to fourteen hour days to get the big project done. I got exactly one evening to catch up, a brief break in the month of craziness.

The only word I have for their life and their plan was challenging.

Remember, however, as challenging as their plan was; it had an end. They were not putting themselves under a never-ending challenge. They had goals; they accepted the challenging circumstances and they has a way out.

Yes, they did succeed but in retrospect, they decided in the future to never put themselves under that kind of pressure again. As they put it now: “Life can be challenging all on its own, be careful when you volunteer to make it even more difficult.”

Pretty good advice, I think.



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