“What’s your next challenge?”
I got asked this question the other day. Perhaps it’s an odd question, but in Hong Kong – in an expat culture that thrives on challenges and pushing boundaries – “what’s your next challenge?” or “when’s your next race” are ranked among some of the most common topics of conversation.
And I’ll admit, the last three years of my life have been full of all types of races and challenges: an amateur boxing match, jumping ship from my career as a lawyer to forge a new one as a journalist, ultra marathons, road marathons and climbing mountains. I’ve been a real sucker for a challenge, the bigger the better.
But for some reason when I was asked the question the other day, I fumbled for words. My biggest challenge right now is not having a challenge.
At the moment I’m dipping my toes in lots of varied interests: road running, cycling, and I’ve finally embraced swimming and hope to do a few ocean swims come summer. And I’ve also signed up for a course to study nutrition.
Here’s the irony: that’s a lot of races and challenges!!! But sized up against what I’ve set for myself in the past, they seemed to pale in comparison. And so when asked the question, I stumbled.
And here’s the silly part: I actually cringed to declare my paltry ambitions. So I’ve stopped, got my head in check and pondered the question: Where on earth did this need arise in me – and I know in many others – to constantly one-up myself?
I once read that “the mind once expanded, can never go back to its original dimensions”. There is a huge temptation in life to always push harder, go faster, go longer. Bigger is better, right?
But perhaps there is a time to acknowledge when bigger is not always better. A time to embrace the fun stuff, rather than always chasing the big stuff.
Let me be clear: I LOVE running 100km ultras (I know, weirdo), but the truth is it takes a lot out of you. It is in many ways a selfish endeavour: it takes up your time and, more importantly, your energy, which ultimately takes away from your work and the quality of time you spend with family and friends. (For example, one of the biggest sufferers of my long training regimes was my gorgeous dog MacLehose; too slow or not strong enough to do my training runs, he’d have to stay at home. He also got a little fat in the process – whoops!)
I am a firm believer in the power of undertaking physical feats to rock the foundations of our often negative beliefs that we can’t (we can), or that something is impossible (no it’s not). That certainly hasn’t changed.
But after three years of pushing myself to the max, I’m happy to admit that instead of trying bigger and better I’m chasing after different. Variety is the spice of life after all.
And I’m also trying to learn to just settle in on the couch with a good book after a hard run (that only goes for an hour, and not four).
I cannot wait for my next challenge in life. Knowing me, it won’t be long. I know there are huge mountains ahead of me – both the physical ones and metaphorical ones. The thought excites me. And I know when I zone in on those goals I will embrace them with all the zest and passion I’ve had in the past.
But for now I am relishing the pleasures of my already-expanded mind. Sitting back and reflecting on some of the awesomeness that has happened in the last few years, savoured with a glass of wine and good company.
And if, like me, you’re not ordinarily one for pausing? Perhaps it’s time you did too.