Get Around People Who Challenge You

I have the distinct honor of having a member of my team here at work be a professional table tennis player in her spare time. She plays in tournaments and plays against really good players. She’s a pros pro at it.

I’ve played her a number of times now and I’m always marveled at what it’s like to compete against someone who is much better than me at something. I played her in about 6 games today and lost all of them with an average score of about 11 to 5.

I can score points here and there on her, but what I notice about her being so good is that she’s a model of consistency whereas I tend to break the pattern that works for me. It’s those moments where I break my pattern – or she forces me out of my comfort zone that she wins the points.

In this case, trying to beat her in a game of table tennis is a big challenge. I have not succeeded so far in about 15 tries. And I’m OK with that because she is so much better. But I have noticed this: When I first started to play her she would win most of the time 11 to 1 or 11 to 2. I had a very difficult time scoring any points.

Since I’ve been playing her more, I can now get to 11 to 4 or 11 to 5 in an average game. I’m nowhere near winning yet, but I have made progress. I notice that each time I play her, my mind picks up on the things she is doing – the spins she hits, her placement of shots, and the force she uses.

As this happens, I begin to get a little more comfort in my shot placement and I attempt to integrate some of her core fundamentals into my own game. It’s this playing her and having my brain simply do what it is designed to do – to be a neural learning network – that makes me get better simply by interacting with her in this game.

I was dripping with sweat after playing her today. She had only a couple beads of sweat. It’s very clear I have a ways to go before I am in a position to win against her. However, I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is to simply be around someone who challenges me at something and to grow from that experience.

I realize I don’t get enough challenge in my life. It’s one of my deep human needs – to be challenged and grow. I look at this and it helps me better understand the decisions I make. Sometimes I will take a perfectly good situation and completely ruin it sub-consciously because I know it will be an enormous challenge to try and build it back up.

I don’t think this is the sole reason I would do something like that, but I do know that being challenged is a strong human need of mine and if I don’t get it, I will create it – sometimes to the frustration, dismay, and puzzlement of those around me. The lesson for me is to learn to curb my being challenged in a positive direction at all times and to not mess up good things when they happen.

When I attempted to run the 400 meters in under 60 seconds, I got very close early in May. But then I pulled my hamstring. I almost wonder if I pushed myself, knowing I might get injured, because I would then have to overcome the injury and that would be a challenge :). My hamstring is feeling pretty good now after over 4 weeks and I’ve been jogging for a couple weeks now.

If your desire in life is to learn and grow and stay at pace with the rapid change happening, getting around people who challenge you is a great thing. Your brain will naturally pick up on what they are doing if you pay attention. I appreciate those who challenge me and help me question my assumptions. My lesson this year is to learn to harness my need to be challenged into positive ways and not destructive ways.

That really is a big reveal for me – I like to be challenged and will sometimes create that situation for myself through my sub-conscious. I really value good friends and connection with people and I shudder to think that I may push people away and make decisions to make it more challenging for those situations. It does not change the core direction and the hard choices ahead for me, but it makes me reflect, that’s for sure.

What challenges you in your life? Do you tend to shy away from a challenging situation or are you drawn to it to try and find a solution for it?

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