"If something that you're doing doesn't challenge you, then it doesn't change you.” We often hear great quotes like these and feel inspired.
When I hear such words I usually think, “Okay, so network more and talk to intimidating people? Got it.” But what does challenging yourself really mean? Let me share an experience with you that helped me realize the meaning of "challenging ourselves."
Because I speak a few foreign languages, including French, my colleague and I were asked to participate in a Skype session with an embassy in the capital of the Central African Republic, as part of a State Department program. What a great opportunity to practice my French and engage with others halfway across the world!
But I was not jumping up and down at the thought. When we initiated contact, I secretly prayed the coordinator would forget about us and that the opportunity would never come to fruition. I speak French, but man was I rusty. What if I couldn’t understand them? What if the connection was bad? What if they laughed at my terrible grammar?
My stomach knotted every time I thought about it but, finally, the day came. I was a mess. I was anxious and sweaty. I felt unprepared. I was completely uncomfortable with the situation and was definitely pushed to my limits.
Then, we Skyped with an amazing group of students, journalists and youth from a war-torn country with myriad problems who were hungry to learn about what we did at Govloop. They threw rapid-fire questions at us without holding back. And, yes, sometimes we had to ask them to repeat, due to the connection or our lack of understanding. But I ended up loving every second of it. Even though I was so scared of failing, stumbling along the question and answer session made me realize that this is what challenging myself is really all about.
I had to struggle during the process, put myself out there and make myself vulnerable. After all was said and done, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. It even reminded me how much I love speaking foreign languages and practicing in international settings. Had it been up to me, this Skype session would never have happened. But I’m so glad that it did.
Challenging yourself is seeking the anxiety-provoking, limit-stretching opportunities. Here are 3 recommendations for how you can really challenge yourself professionally:
- Take a class. But this time, don’t do it in something you love. Try something you know you’re not good at. Is it foreign languages? Writing or even – gasp – math? We often limit ourselves from so much opportunity because we’re too scared to dive into areas where we’re weak. There are plenty of classes you can take, whether online or in-person to advance your career. Learn that it’s okay to struggle. You’ll be surprised at how you can grow professionally.
- Experience something new. Spending your time on the same old hobbies can be monotonous. I have a friend from college who makes it a point to do at least one cool new thing every weekend, whether it’s rock climbing, exploring a national park or visiting an old ghost town. I remember conquering a 17-mile mountain with that friend. I hurt for days and it was something I would have never done on my own, but I'm proud of that accomplishment. While most of us can’t commit to every week, try at least every month to do something completely out of the ordinary on a weekend. It will give you fresh perspective on your work and remind you that you can accomplish anything you set your mind on.
- Make it a point to be vulnerable. Whether it’s attending a networking event, asking your top-ranking boss for a coffee meeting, or even speaking in front of 200 people, push yourself to do at least one thing once a month where you feel like you’re exposed and completely uncomfortable. You’ll hate every minute leading up to that event. You’ll look for every excuse to get out of it. But if you could turn off those negative voices and say to yourself “I don’t have to be perfect at this,” you’ll be amazed at how much you can grow during such experiences.
Have I made you uncomfortable yet? If so, good. I hope we can all get out there more often and push ourselves so that we don’t avoid accomplishing dreams anymore just because they may be challenging.
This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.
This blog post was originally posted in November, 2015.