Life

You Must Learn to Challenge Yourself

Sometimes, the only way to grow is to be uncomfortable.

When I was growing up, I struggled with pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I was shy as a child and into my teen years, which sometimes made new experiences and new friendships challenging.

Now, I’ve learned that I’m an introvert — I’m simply wired differently than my more socially exuberant peers.

I have also learned that challenging myself to walk up to someone new, sit by a new person in a meeting, or ask someone new out for lunch is a much more productive way to solve my introvert woes than sitting idly by and feeling a loss of control.

Looking back, I think that is what caused me so much heartache growing up — I felt like so much of what was happening when I took a leap of faith and attended a new youth group or tried to navigate the tumultuous waters of the school cafeteria was beyond my control. Because of this, I ended up floating from group to group while I was in college and sitting in a lonely bathroom stall for the rest of lunch after eating my ham and cheese sandwich.

While there are definitely things that are beyond my control, I know now that I am much more in charge than I thought I was.

It’s taken years of continually, sometimes forcibly, being pushed out of my comfort zone to incite change in my own mindset and my own life. There were times — like when my dad forced me to call the movie theater that was hosting one of my favorite bands, Jump 5, in middle school — that I ended up in tears because the pursuit of discomfort was utterly miserable.

Continually picking myself back up to try new groups and make new friends when I started college also often ended in tears and left me feeling more alone in the midst of a group than I felt when I was literally alone.

But these instances also incited change.

The saying goes that hindsight is 20/20, and I wholeheartedly believe in this. Now, looking back, I see the slow arc from that tearful girl crying on the phone to the poor woman at the theater, to that same girl in high school getting her first job and not only answering the phone but manning the drive-through and cash register at the local burger joint with a level of skill that was admired by coworkers.

Fast forward a few years, and that student who was trying so desperately to fit in with groups where she simply did not belong founded her own student club with a group of friends, made some new ones in the process, and was eventually president of the club senior year.

I’ve been reflecting on the value of challenging oneself in the past few months of this year. Looking back with perfect-20/20-hindsight-glasses affixed to my face, I can see how each challenge I’ve faced was met head-on, if not somewhat reluctantly, and that those challenges made me into the person I am today.

I’m nowhere near perfect, but I think I am miles closer to the woman I imagined I would be when I was still that shy girl in middle school hesitantly dreaming of a future where making friends and fitting in was easier. I now willingly seek out areas for growth and improvement, and I’ve stuck to it.

A couple of years ago in January 2018, I was nervously looking up every article I could find about what to expect at one’s first indoor cycling class and showed up woefully unprepared, but determined. More than a year later I am (or was, pre-coronavirus) waking up at 4:45 for Throwback Thursday class, making more than one class every week, and greeting instructors and classmates by name.

This year, I even tried three new workout classes at three entirely different gyms/studios because, as I told myself at the beginning of the year, trying something new last year had worked out pretty well, so what did I have to lose?

I’m convinced that life is a constant process of growth and change.

If you’re not setting yourself up to embrace it, you’re going to get left behind and feel like your waiting out lunchtime in the bathroom while everyone else lives it up in the cafeteria. I’ve learned that it’s okay to have those moments, but it’s not okay to return there every day feeling sorry for yourself.

Challenge yourself to make a change, big or small, and relish the discomfort of it — that’s the one true way to know you’re doing something right.

Challenge accepted.

Previously published in Write Like a Girl.

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