20 January 2016

Why am I drawn to hard things?

We stood there in the downpour looking out at the chop on Lake Crescent. Whitecaps were forming and the wind whipped directly in our faces. I asked, "would you take students out in this?" "Yeah," she said, with only the slightest hesitation. "We could go out. But it wouldn't be much fun."

As we walked back dejectedly to the warmth of the wood-burning stove in the NatureBridge dining hall, I looked back longingly at the canoes again. It wouldn't be any fun out there. It was grey and cold and paddling would be tiring. Somehow, I still wanted to go out. I said this to Becky, who said, "You just seem to be drawn to doing these things that are miserable. What is that all about?"

Part of it was that I had wanted to canoe at Olympic National Park for years and felt like I might never get the opportunity again. But that couldn't encapsulate everything I felt in that moment. Becky was right - I am drawn to hard things. 

I'm definitely not a masochist. I don't thrive on pain or suffering. I do have a high tolerance for it, though, which allows me to continue when others might struggle. I am sure that is partially genetic, but I am also sure that it can be a learned quality. Experience with pain and suffering allows one to endure more - sort of a wacky muscle memory of the soul. Simply being able to endure pain does not draw one to hard things, though.

As I explained in my previous post, I am personally drawn to achievement as a construction of self, a buffer of confidence. That's also too simplistic of an explanation for my attraction to doing difficult things. If achievement were the sole driver, I could certainly find something a little less taxing than running ultramarathons or summiting Sierra Nevada peaks solo or skiing in a blizzard.

"Oh, these times are hard. Yeah, they're making us crazy, baby..."

I think what I finally said to Becky was, "I'm addicted to the personal growth that occurs after doing the hard things." I know it would have been no fun to canoe out there in the driving rain, but I also know that I probably would not regret it afterward. It is infrequent that a hard thing is just that - hard, and nothing more. It is almost always hard and a powerful learning experience, or hard and empowering, or hard and camaraderie-inducing.

There is a transcendent power in pushing our limits, digging down deep. In a trying moment, we are reduced to our truest selves, to our maximum potential. When things suck, I feel equally vulnerable and powerful - like I don't know how bad things might get, but I also don't know just how strong I might rise.
This is usually the result of doing hard things.

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