A life without challenges may seem appealing when we are under pressure, but in reality it would be bland, boring, unstimulating and a recipe for a miserable life. However, going to the opposite extreme of having challenges that are too difficult or too numerous can be very problematic. It can be a recipe for stress and worse.
So, what we need to find is a balance of challenges, a level of challenge that does not leave us bored, but nor does it overwhelm us. This is not always easy, but it is certainly worth the effort to achieve that balance whenever we can.
It won’t be a one-off job whereby we achieve that balance and everything is fine thereafter. Life isn’t that simple, of course, as things will continue to change. That balance should therefore be seen as a dynamic one that needs to be managed over time, rather than a fixed point that we have reached.
So, what counts as a suitable balance of challenges will be different at different times. This will depend on a number of factors. For example, our health can make a big difference. What we can easily take in our stride when we are well can prove to be too much when we are under the weather. There will also be emotional factors to consider – for example, someone who is grieving may find even straightforward day-to-day challenges too demanding for a while at least. And, of course, there will be social factors to consider. Someone struggling with poverty may have far less room for manoeuvre for other challenges (although that is not to say that people living in poverty cannot cope with huge challenges, as that is often precisely what poverty brings).
We also have to take into account that what counts for a significant challenge for one person may be nothing of the sort for someone else. An example of this would be public speaking. People who are used to this may find it not the slightest bit challenging and may actually relish it, while people not so accustomed to it may find it one of the most challenging things they will ever do in their lives. Others will find it so demanding that they will never do it, refusing to even consider it as a possibility. Consequently, we have to think carefully about what each of us finds challenging (and how challenging exactly), as what applies to one person won’t necessarily apply to others.
We should also consider the positive side of challenges – they have payoffs as well as pains, benefits as well as costs. Rising to a challenge can boost confidence, earn respect and credibility and open doors for us. It can also give us a sense of satisfaction and real achievement – provided, of course that we are able to keep that balance: not too little, not too much.
A lot will depend on how much support we have access to. Do we face our challenges alone or together? This is also a factor that make a huge difference. Sadly, some people see accepting help or support as a sign of weakness and therefore struggle on alone unnecessarily, missing out on the major benefits of working together and supporting one another.
At the heart of balancing our challenges is self-awareness, being able to tune in to the circumstances we find ourselves in at any given time and weigh up what it is safe to take on and what will risk overloading us. To do that we need to be aware of what our capabilities are and very aware of what is involved in the challenges. We need to have clarity about where those boundaries lie: (i) between too little and just right; and (ii) between too much and just right. In effect, self-awareness should bring us a Goldilocks approach to balancing the challenges we face.