Challenge Yourself

Fred DeVito said “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

There was a time when I didn’t consider these words or understand just how true they really were. I didn’t think that I needed to change myself and remained safe and secure inside my comfort zone. Safe and secure inside the little secluded world where new people seldom entered and only a selected few were allowed to know the real me. I could be myself within this limited group but outside of it I was painfully shy. It didn’t matter though, because there hadn’t been a need to leave this safe domain. That all changed when an opportunity was placed in my path.

A position of leadership within my field was up for grabs and I knew my job like the back of my hand, I could do it with my eyes closed and I did it whilst striving for perfection. But to lead a team? Sure I had subject knowledge and experience, but leading was something different entirely. Well that would mean public speaking, and delegating tasks! The doormat faction (see When is Enough, Enough?) did not delegate tasks! We were the ones who had them delegated upon, often taking on more than our fair share and doing so without complaint. Despite this, I knew an opportunity when I saw it and the perfectionist in me had me wanting to not only take on the role, but to take it on and do it well. The prospect of being a leader and chairing meetings scared me, but the question I asked myself was whether I would be happy for someone else to take on the role, knowing that they would be doing it just for the money, knowing that I was probably the most hardworking in the team, knowing that my passion and zeal had not been dampened by all the bureaucracy and knowing how much I dreamt of making a difference in people’s lives. I took the plunge.

It has been a learning curve. I remember looking at how eloquently my peers were able to speak and I was in complete awe of that. I compared myself to others, ever-conscious of the way I fumbled my words, made mistakes and missed things completely. Standing up and speaking to an audience, many of whom were older than me, made me hot, made me nervous and made my hands clammy. The majority of people were polite and respectful, but there were a few who just did not complete tasks on time, if at all. I uncomfortably approached them with kind reminders and typed up polite requests to be continuously met with the usual excuses. I questioned my leadership abilities as I sat there madly typing away at the eleventh hour, submitting the work that they had repeatedly been asked to do. Yes it was madness, but after self reflection I realised that I didn’t do it for them, and their not being able to commit to deadlines was not a deficiency within myself, but it was the strength and the leader within me that was prepared to go above and beyond my duty to ensure the smooth running of the department that I believed in.

I realised that in order to become an effective leader, I required more than the universal characteristics which make a person ‘good,’ and the best way for me to gain them was to fake it. Confidence and assertiveness were not things I possessed, but I faked them. I faked all day long until I no longer had to, because I started believing in myself. I realised why my peers were able to deliver professional development workshops so articulately. It was because they believed in themselves and in the message they were conveying. How passionately we are able to speak about the things we love and the things we believe in! I learned that when faced with the task of presenting a seminar which rather than send people to sleep, ignited sparks of passion among the audience, I had to become passionate about it myself. Leaders lead by example.

Through this personal challenge, I have learnt a lot. I am still learning. And it is humbling. I have changed and found myself doing things that I previously wouldn’t even have dreamed of. I realised that my previous outlook was only limiting who I was and all that I can strive to be. By remaining in my comfort zone I was preventing myself from discovering all of me and from being the best version of me. The change has been good, and I actually prefer the new me that is emerging with each new challenge. I don’t know what lies ahead of me, I have big ideas and even bigger dreams. Perhaps I will not change the world, but if the opportunity for me to do so arises, I’m up for that challenge!

“If you don’t challenge yourself, you will never realise what you can become.”

Go on, challenge yourself.

When is Enough, Enough?

I have long been an admirer of strong individuals . People who have set firm boundaries coupled with the strength to stand up in their defence. People who are not afraid to say ‘no’ and afterwards spend no time over-analysing, toing and froing, wondering whether they had done or said the right thing, or come across as too harsh. People who basically stand up for themselves regardless of what other people think and do not allow anyone to believe that they are ‘doormats’ that can be mistreated and walked over.

I had always belonged to the doormat faction of society, and had been sentenced to remain there until life’s gruelling, debilitating and often relentless lessons forced me to challenge myself and rethink absolutely everything, because there comes a time when one simply asks themselves “When is enough, enough?” My personal belief is that this limit varies within each individual despite the ever-present national moral compass which advises us on what is acceptable and what is not, because sometimes we just disregard it. Us doormats have a habit of downplaying incidents, making excuses for other people’s behaviour when it is public, and covering it up when it is not. We blame ourselves believing that their reaction was due to a mistake or shortcoming of our own and had we have simply not done/said such and such, then they would have not done/said what they did. We believe in people’s words and when they apologise, make excuses or promises of the future, we are gullible. I am in no way suggesting that we write off compassion completely and all of the other wonderful traits that make up our good character, but just that we begin to recognise when  something is not quite right. Some people are able to draw the line straight away, and put an immediate halt to what is happening, for others it comes after a few occurrences and for some, that line is never drawn.

Drawing the line and standing up for oneself is often scary. There is an unwavering fear of loss, uncertainty and instability. We need to ask ourselves if the fear of the future consequences of standing up for oneself is greater than the fear of the future consequences of remaining in the present situation. Where is our own personal breaking point? When is enough, enough? Is it enough when you give up on your dreams? Is it enough when the tears have flowed so much that the eyes are no longer able to cry? Is it enough when continuous incidents desensitise and numb the emotions so that one becomes conditioned to the new normality? Is it enough when one no longer cares for the other and those qualities that make a person known as a thoughtful and sensitive individual are lost and the victim has become unrecognisable? Is it enough when one is constantly battling with the voices within, arguing, replaying, reimagining and causing such anxiety that a good night of sleep is impossible? For some it will not be enough until that critical moment has been reached and one is left at absolute breaking point. It can be a scary place where you find that you are no longer living, just simply existing, or it can be the defining moment in life when enough has become enough and all those fears and uncertainties that caused you to remain in oppression are not as scary as the emotional darkness that has seized the soul and crippled the mind.

At breaking point one becomes prepared to stand up and free themselves even if it means risking everything, including your life, because remaining stagnant is also a death sentence. At breaking point one questions the reason why they are staying. One questions whether they are truly the strong person they thought they had been all along for being patient, not upsetting/disappointing everyone and internalising the pain so that nobody else has to feel it, and begins to wonder if in fact the real strength is to stand up and say “Enough is enough!” even if that means compromising everything you have? Sometimes the solution is to walk away, and sometimes the solution is to use the God-given voice you own. It is scary, and it is empowering. It is also enlightening to discover that in fact, it has been the aggressor that has been the weak one all along. It was never you. They are weak because they are the ones living in fear, fear of losing control and so they treat others unkindly because they are too weak to control their own emotions and their own tongues. They are weak because after inflicting so much pain, they cannot digest the result of their actions and so believe that they themselves are the victims.

I no longer belong to the doormat faction. I am still thoughtful, caring and considerate of others, but within a balanced perspective. I use my voice everywhere, and in addition to standing up for myself and what I believe in, I realise that I have a lot to say! We are all on a journey and I am just about to embark on a new chapter in mine. I am starting new things and dreaming about the near future. Evolving and breaking free can often be a dangerous time because aggressors become scared. Stay happy, stay safe, seek help and remember that you are wonderful!