Evolution causes every organism to adapt itself. Giraffes grew long necks due to long trees. Polar bears are white and their surroundings are too. Panthers are fast because their food is fast. The natural world has forced animals to grow beautifully.
In modern civilization the human organism isn’t required to grow to fit the environment. Instead we can shape the environment to fit our needs. If a store is too far we build another one closer. Now we don’t have to be patient. If we feel tired we can hire someone else to mow the lawn. Now we don’t have to sweat. What happens in this scenario is you get beautiful surroundings like buildings, vehicles, and some great inventions. But the organisms that create it suffer. We gain weight, our skin goes pale, and we can’t focus.
Now more than ever it’s easier to slog through life and not have things challenged. If you find your original career aspiration is difficult, there are hundreds of other options that won’t demand so much brain power and discipline. And you know what? You’re right. You wouldn’t be able to be a doctor, or physicist, or programmer. You don’t have the mental strength, stamina, and not to mention the patience.
But there’s one question you have to ask: Has there ever been a time when I did something that I previously thought I wasn’t capable of? Pffft. YES. So many damn things. So many of the things I’m happy I did were things I didn’t think I could do.
What we don’t realize is that we do not have the mental strength, stamina, and patience at the moment. But once we throw ourselves into a situation, we quickly adapt to fit the needs of the situation. So at this very moment you’re right. You are not fit to do that very difficult thing. But as soon as you resolve to do it, you become more able.
A month ago I was at odds about whether I should go to 10-day silent meditation retreat. I’m not sure I would last. Last summer I signed up for one but when I got the acceptance email, I quickly cancelled. The retreat would be 10 days of no speaking, reading, writing, or exercise. I would be meditating on average 5 hours a day. Currently I can only stomach about 20 minutes a day broken up into 2 sessions. So at this very moment, a 10-day retreat isn’t something I’m capable of.
But I signed up again last week and I’m currently on the waitlist. This time if I get in, I’m going. It doesn’t matter to me that right now I can only meditate for 10 minutes at a time due to back pain and my leg falling asleep. When I’m at the retreat, I’ll rise to the occasion. There will be several other people there struggling with the same situation and this change will cause a change in my ability. Those people will also be interested in the practice which will heighten my interest.
This works with exercise too. I normally workout alone. But just a few days ago I worked out with my friend Adam. When we went running up a hill, I found myself pushing harder than I ever have. I could have spent hours researching online on how to push oneself. But simply working out with someone more athletic did the trick.
So rather than change situations to fit my capabilities, I’m learning to change my capabilities to fit new situations. And when I can, I’ll actively seek situations that’ll force growth. I believe this can work with a bunch of things. If I want to improve my Spanish, rather than studying books, I’ll converse with a Spanish speaker. If I want to improve my finances, I’ll spend my time talking to someone knowledgeable.
I simply want to have a life that is the result of meeting difficult situations head on. I’ve realized that I am either growing or dying, getting stronger or weaker. But there’s no standing still.
Image by Tambako The Jaguar