If science and math are not your strong suits, growing up in an academic household with two teachers as parents can be rough. Alice’s father was a professor and her mother a special-needs elementary teacher, so the pressure was always on for scholastic success.
Alice did fine in her early years, but in fourth grade her parents moved her to a private school, where the curriculum was more challenging and the grading more rigorous. Incredibly smart students threw off the grading curve for everyone else. Her younger brother was also moved to the new school, but he seemed to have an easier time of it than Alice, who found herself dropping from a straight A student in public school to a B- average.
Over the years Alice had to work extra hard to bring her grades into the B+ range. When she got to high school, she begged and pleaded her parents to let her go to the public school where she knew she could be an A student again. They said no. Alice was angry about their refusal, but still strove for good grades. By the time she graduated, she had a 4.3 GPA and was soon holding a big fat acceptance letter from Cornell University. Alice was ecstatic, but knew college was going to be even harder than high school.
At Cornell, Alice was one of nine people out of 200 applicants chosen for her particular study focus. The people around her were so good, the classes were tough and the hours long, but she continued to meet the challenges and made it to graduation. Fast forward to today, and Alice has made a name for herself in a big way, owning her own successful business and founding a non-profit.
Recently, Alice found out from an expert that she is very likely dyslexic. However, because she was rigorously challenged throughout her academic career, and pushed herself to be just as good as the people surrounding her, the expert says her brain developed creative ways to overcome its inherent learning disability.
And perhaps that was her parents’ plan all along.
Naturally in life, most of us want things to be easy. We hate being challenged, because overcoming those challenges takes extra effort, is time consuming and also beats up our egos a bit. Our whole evolution as a species is based on figuring out the easier ways to do things, to conserve energy and resources in order to ensure our descendants survive and thrive. So when we have to push really hard to get somewhere, most of us will look for a different path.
But how often do we avoid the hard work, only to find the “easy” path isn’t as easy as we thought? What do we lose by choosing the path of least resistance? If Alice’s parents had agreed to let her pursue the “easy A,” might her dyslexia have held her back even more? Would she have been ready to face the challenges of owning her own business?
More often than not the actions it takes for us to get to that easy, efficient place, are neither easy nor efficient. They usually involve significant investment of time and effort to overcome challenges and hurdles. If you watch great Olympians compete, their movements may look totally fluid and effortless. But those movements are the product of years of hard work.
There’s a philosophy that your income will be the average of the five people you spend most of your time with; you’ll only be motivated to thrive as much as they do, and prospering beyond them or falling behind might put you out of rapport.
The same holds true for the skills you attain in life. The strength and breadth of your abilities is often closely in sync with the people who surround you, be it at work or in your social life. A challenging work environment can promote improvements in your skill sets and experience, that often wouldn’t come about on their own. Friends who are making great strides in their fitness levels likewise may inspire you to push yourself more. Even if you are someone who has a powerful internal drive to succeed, finding other like-minded peers and mentors to both support and challenge you can make the difference between “getting through” an experience and truly owning it. We thrive only when we are challenged.
What is a skill set or life perspective that could bump you up to the next level of your life, but that you have avoided developing because it felt just too difficult to master? How is this reluctance holding you back? What step can you take this week to surround yourself with the right people that can push you towards honing that skill and mastering it?
“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.” — Walt Disney