They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. I have certainly found this to be true. But when it comes to facing challenges head on, how do you decide when “too hard” is really too hard? How do you know when to test your own mettle?
I’m not really asking about knowing when to quit, although that’s certainly related. Instead, I’m wondering about one’s ability to discern the difficulty of a task that awaits, recognizing constraints, understanding the activities involved as climbing a (small) mountain, yet going ahead anyway.
What makes some of us plunge ahead and others hold back?
When we’re waffling as we weigh the pros and cons of moving forward or stopping, what tips the scales?
I readily admit to being stubborn when I decide I want something. And, when I work, I frequently set aside reasonable (common sense?) guidelines for hours I should expend on a task, or expectations of quality. I set the bar high. I like setting the bar high. And I don’t mind pushing myself to achieve something I consider valuable.
When the opportunity for a trip to Europe came up for me recently, I knew it would be hard for me to get away. Very hard. I also had difficulty even imagining it. All I could see were the obstacles, and they were most certainly real: There were issues of managing the logistics of days off, which would mean organizing my time and projects so I could work 15-hour days rather than my 12-hour norm. I also understood that most likely I would return to a week or two of 15-hour days. (No kidding.)
But my real challenge was the fact that I live with chronic pain as the result of injuries sustained in a car accident.
Generally speaking, this is a nonevent. I go about my business and no one’s the wiser. Advil lends a hand when required, but most of the time, I’m so involved in whatever I’m doing that pain fades to the background. However, if I’m especially tired, if I’m especially stressed, if I must carry or pull luggage, if I’m hauling a laptop and cables and chargers, if I’ve had a bout of extended sleeplessness, if I’m sitting in uncomfortable seats for hours and getting in and out of planes, trains, and automobiles… Well… let’s just say, it isn’t pretty.
Now if we’re talking a relatively short flight without stops and little luggage, sure. I can manage that. How about a road trip, with a heating pad plugged into the cigarette lighter or dash? Feasible. (I did it last summer for business.) I can wriggle around a bit while sitting, stop and stretch when I need to, and rely on heat if my back begins to rebel.
In this instance, the proposed journey would involve two very long trans-Atlantic flights, multiple train rides, two countries, three cities, four hotels and any number of unknowns that could pose real problems. Not only was I worried about the amount of pain — is it worth being somewhere wonderful if you’re stuck in bed? — but I was concerned that I would ruin it for my traveling companion. Much as I hoped to do a little business while I was overseas, to enjoy a change of scene, and reap the benefits of time off, simply put, I thought it just might be too hard.
Right up until a few days before I left, I wasn’t certain that I would be able to pull it off. What is the point of putting oneself through that much? It isn’t like I haven’t been to Europe before; I have, and many times. Naturally, the idea of it was wonderful, and better still as someone else was picking up the bulk of the tab. That made the decision even more challenging. But would I ruin his trip if I found myself partially incapacitated due to pain, or just cranky as hell for the same reason?
As it turns out the experience was much like life itself; over the course of the days and nights that we traveled, there were good days and not so good days. But there were more good days than bad, and I am reminded of what I told my children during divorce and the difficult years that followed: Life brings both sadness and joy, but there will always be more joy.
I like to think that both of my sons, even when they struggle as we all do, will have absorbed those words, and will keep this principle close to heart. We are more likely to live with the perspective that we can get through the troubled times when we know there will be wonderful moments beyond the challenges, the pain, and the shadows.
As for me, what I feared would be “too hard” was, at moments, extremely hard indeed. There were two very trying days, and five excellent ones. I have also learned all about buying Belgian heating pads! (Wonderful design, incidentally.) Despite the inconvénients, the trip wasn’t beyond my managing as I found that “too hard” wasn’t too hard after all. Besides, there was beet salad after the bateau mouche, and there were macarons at a chic little cocktail party. The good days won, the pleasures of Paris won, the satisfaction and stimulation of new business connections won.
The joy won.
And as a result, I won, too.
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