Mum: So how was it?
Me: I loved it!!!
Mum: Oh no…
My mum was not just disappointed that I had enjoyed myself, which means that next time I’ll be attempting an Olympic standard rather than a sprint triathlon, she is seriously worried about me and with good reason. Having recovered from my long-term illness, I have experienced a bit of a setback after taking on that challenge. My immune system is down, I still feel exhausted three weeks later and I clearly need rest rather than chase the next challenge.
The thing, I love a challenge. Back on the train I was chatting to a fellow triathlete, and I asked her: “Why do you do it?"
She did not hesitate a moment before saying this:
I love challenging myself, I love the training routine, it makes me feel healthy and fit beyond my age. It’s a strange question: challenges simply make me feel alive and happy.
I could not have put it better myself. It seems competitiveness and thirst for challenges are part of my DNA. As the British mountain climber George Mallory famously said: the reason he wanted to climb mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth, is because it was there.
But we are not all wired in the same way. For some, life is a running track and it’s their raison d’être to set goals, compete, aim high and never question the sanity of their pursuits. Those who continuously challenge themselves - be it running an ultra marathon, signing up for a Tough Mudder, agreeing to do their first public speech or cooking an enormous family Christmas dinner - instinctively reach beyond their comfort zone for the prize of fulfilment.
For others, life is not about being a warrior. Their fulfilment may come in ability to express yourself creatively or in caring for others and having a network of warm and long-standing relationships. Still, others seek acceptance and popularity.
We aren’t all the same, and it does not help to measure other people with your own yardstick. To build successful relationships at home and at work, it pays to recognise differences and find a way to attune to and understand other people.
Last week I wrote about motivation. If you manage a challenge junkie at work, it really isn’t about the money or the perks, the nice office or continuous approval. Challenge, variety and complex tasks are the best motivators for someone like me.
In personal life, it is even more important to understand the values those close to us hold dear. If your wife gets up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday to go for a run, does two rounds of laundry, fixes lunch and writes a blog article about her marathon training before you wake up, she is not crazy, she just cannot bear to have it any other way. She does not need you to join her running club, but your empathy and support would probably mean the world to her.
My grandfather died just a few days before his 75th birthday from a heart attack, as he was breaking ice with a heavy cast iron pole to access his garage. Previously, he had a few strokes and should have known better than to undertake something so strenuous. This year he would have turned 90. Since my own illness (which has only one cure - proper rest), I’ve been thinking a lot about him and what was driving him that morning. He knew, of course, that he would have been better off sitting on a sofa, waiting for spring to come and melt the ice naturally, but sitting still was alien to him.
What if we could attune to ourselves, see if it’s possible to re-wire a few things, so that challenge junkies don’t regard life as a racing track and learn, gradually, to be kinder to themselves?
I would really like to hear what you think - please leave a comment below.