by Jen Chau
The other day in my quantitative analysis class, we were working on standard deviation problems. My professor introduced two equations, with one being the obviously more complicated. Of course, everyone wanted to use the easier, so my professor said this -- "If something is too difficult for you, it's exactly what you need."
Isn't this true? And *need*...meaning, sure, we can live without it, but in order to actually improve ourselves, we need to be challenged. I can look back at various moments in my life where I needed to do what was difficult in order to grow. Many times we take the easier, most comfortable way. What do we learn then? Do we ever get to visit different possibilities or see things from a different angle if we always pick what is comfortable and familiar?
Just recently, I realized how mired in this I have been. For example, for every cuisine I have ever enjoyed, I have a specific favorite dish which I order every time. I know the dish well and I know that if I order it, that I will be fulfilled. Sure, this is a safe road to happiness. But imagine what I could be missing! On a menu of 100+ selections, to have only tried one thing no matter how many times I go?!?! What a boringly predictable existence. Sure, by going outside of the norm, I am risking possible displeasure. What if my choice isn't good as what I normally get? Yes...but what if it's BETTER?!
Do we ever consider that? I think that when we are miserable, we realize that there is better. "Of course, things can only go up from here," you say. But what about those times that we are content? Happy getting the same dish of chicken enchiladas or coconut curry over and over (but damn, its good stuff!), happy in friendships/relationships that we are comfortable with yet not fulfilled by, happy with jobs that we know how to do well but by which we are not challenged. Happy with where we are because we cannot imagine what even better looks like.
And speaking as someone who has said "I'll take the usual" more often than I should have, I think that the problem lies in lack of curiosity mixed with creativity. We see what we know and if we don't get exposed to that which is above and beyond and special, we will never know that we can have it. Why don't we push ourselves to try new things when we are just fine with what we have? Because we are unthoughtful at the very best. At the very worst we are close-minded and scared.
My professor was right. If we do what feels difficult, we might learn that we weren't challenging ourselves significantly. And we might see that what we thought made us happy actually doesn't make us half as happy as other things do.
I have challenged myself with difficult things throughout the years (more often lately it seems) and I have always been shocked to find that I can do more than I thought, that I actually like things that I didn't realize I liked, that I am passionate about certain things. It is also when you deviate from the norm that you are really able to learn about yourself -- see the patterns... It's interesting to notice what you keep going back to again and again...even if you have deviated in order to try something new.