On the Nature of Challenges

The bookshelf in the house I grew up in was long dominated by a set of children’s books my Mom picked for me from a monthly book club thing. It was a whole series about historically significant people that gave me the firmest grasp on historical biographies I’ve ever had. Among the books on Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur- who for some reason was my favorite- was the biography of Jackie Robinson.

Even to my 5 year old mind, Jackie Robinson was impressive. The simply narrated book said that even from a very young age, Jackie Robinson always challenged himself. Since I was a young age, I took this to be directly applicable to me and started setting challenges for myself immediately. Yeah but I was 5, so these challenges were more like never again stepping on a crack in the sidewalk and things like that, they weren’t targeted to affect real growth in any way. I like to think that now the challenges I set for myself are targeted and do contribute to personal growth, but is an inner monologue of constant challenge the most effective way to think?

Though the compulsive challenge setting made me a great student during high school and university, I’ve also consistently struggled with anxiety. How much challenge is the right amount? And does anxiety result more from inwardly set challenges than outwardly imposed ones?