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Challenges

No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley. - Seneca the Younger 

When most people think about challenges, they focus on problems and difficulties. They'll talk about troubles at work, and bothersome interpersonal issues. Interestingly, though, one of the first definitions of the word 'challenge' is, "a demand for identification". How brilliant this is, and how true. Challenges define us. They create character, and show us the stuff we are made of. 

In his doctrine On The Nature of Things, Lucretius said, "Look at a man in the midst of doubt and danger, and you will learn in his hour of adversity what he really is. It is then that true utterances are wrung from the recesses of his breast. The mask is torn off; the reality remains." Almost two thousand years later, these same sentiments were echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Challenges offer identity. They are opportunities to learn about ourselves. They reveal our weaknesses and strengths, and provide incredible clarity regarding our priorities in what we hold most dear. It is only during the challenging times that we realize what is truly important to us. It is when we have to make the "tough decisions" that we learn to value the intangibles - courage, honesty, security, love. In fact, it is during some of mankind's darkest hours that the human spirit shone most brightly. Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank, William Wallace - just a few names for the many beacons of light that have been forged in fires of adversity. Even in nature, it is only under incredible heat and pressure that a modest lump of coal can become a precious diamond.

This demand for identification cuts away the inconsequential. We are not just a name or a number. We identify ourselves truly in our nature and in our choices. It is in challenging times that you learn 'who your friends are', and who can rely on you in return. And oddly, it can be the times of greatest distress that provide the most clarity. Directions, values, priorities survive when all else becomes question.

Challenges also help to illuminate our personal blueprints. They give us reference; a benchmark if you will for how far we have come, and the direction we choose to go. A series of events led to the challenge, and decisions were made along the way. What circumstances created these events, and what can we learn from the decisions? It has been said that "Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want." It is only by experience, however, that we learn to plot the landscape of our lives. The direct highway, or the meandering byway; each has lessons, and through learning comes growth. Only by reflecting on life's paths and crossroads, we can begin to plot the course towards our goals. 

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