“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” Words made famous by Franklin Roosevelt and ones that resonated with me yesterday as I pitted my nerves against the nursery slope at a quarry in the foothills of Perth. Yes, I rose to the challenge of abseiling – with a highly competent team on a very easy descent – but it stretched me and my courage as I went to war with myself in my head to get myself over the line – over the edge and down the cliff.
Adult life is challenging – children, partners, family, work – juggling the unique demands of each sometimes at the same time is tiring. Hang on – let’s get rid of tiring and go for the jugular – exhausting, wearying, bone-achingly knackering. The space that’s left over for the moments that really push you personally can be limited. You know – going on that super long run, challenging yourself to learn a whole new skill, or in my case, walking backwards off a cliff and then down the side.
Why is it that we need these challenges? The ones that are not just about getting through the daily grind with some shreds of our sanity left intact but those that push us to the edges of our courage and our comfort? The challenges that push us to grow, to become keen observers of our own thinking patterns and of our belief systems.
Maslow proposed a hierarchy of human needs – starting with basic physiological needs to sustain life itself. That one’s a no-brainer. Air, water, food, sleep, shelter – the essentials to ensure our survival. Once we have those essential sorted, it opens a space for the next level of need – safety. This need extends beyond personal safety into financial security and health and wellbeing. These aspects of our adult journey can take up a lot of head space – worrying about illness and wellness, money for food, housing and education. In fact, this can take up the entire functioning head space of many adults and you can well imagine that anxiety and depression can sidle in, unwelcome, when safety related needs are not met.
Let’s move up to the next level – social belonging. This is the arduous journey of self and other discovery of almost every teen. And throughout life we all have a need to like and to be liked, to have close and meaningful connections that grow us intrapersonally and within the communities that we live, love and work. Anyone who has felt loneliness and isolation will tell you that emptiness is starving creature, eating you up inside, turning you inward on yourself. Connection, belongingness, acceptance – these factors help to grow human brains and are fundamental protective factors along life’s journey.
Just one from the top is esteem – the growth of self. The deep desire to be and feel worthy, to be valued, to have respect from self and others. There are many that get to this level and falter, turning esteem into ego. Always needing, looking for and expecting recognition. Only finding value in self through the eyes of others. The positive words that would describe someone who has nailed this need would be resilience and fortitude, self-confidence, mastery, competence, self-respect… self-esteem. Esteem needs to start on the inside for it to stick and without it, many nearly-noble souls have spent years chasing fame and fortune as seen through the eyes of others and have found themselves falling short.
And then there’s the golden apple – the need at the top of the hierarchy that sits there smugly announcing that THIS is the one to get to – self-actualisation. The self-actualised person is the one who’s physiological and safety needs have been met – or at least are stable and not under constant threat. They have a sense of self in their social world and in their internal world too. “Comfortable in their own skin” is a saying often used to describe someone secure in their sense of belonging and in the way in which they are progressing through the world. A beautiful word often used at the level of self-actualisation is transcendence. Being able to rise above, to have an emotionally intelligent view of self and others, to open a space for further challenges with the purpose of these to expand, invigorate, stretch and promote growth.
Life, being that it is a series of events; fortunate, unfortunate and sometimes mind-boggling, means that at times we sit in the seat of being able to stretch ourselves well beyond the everyday, expected challenges of life. At other times, life’s demands close in and we ungraciously descend the hierarchy to plug the gaps in family, money, education, housing and relationship issues. In these times feeling stretched, unable to engage in anything beyond simply getting through this minute, this day and this week means that we’re responding perfectly to the demands that are right in front of us right now.
The ultimate challenge though, is to find the moments that exist right at the top of life’s hierarchy – the ones that promise growth, excitement, a meeting of your mind’s limits with courage, curiosity and determination and to use these to experience the thrill of transcendence. Moving above the mundane, the routine, the necessary and into your highest form of self. Go on, have a go. Set yourself the challenge to try the thing you fear – and you really want to achieve. Public speaking, a physical challenge, as lifestyle change – whatever is it allow yourself to experience the incredible power of your mind, your resilience and defy your self-imposed limits.