We live in a modern world with modern conveniences. Modern challenges to our everyday lives consists of ensuring our iPhone has been updated to the latest operating system or trying to find the cheapest gas in town without driving too far for the savings to be pointless. Our desire to streamline and simplify everything has left little challenge to our daily lives and allows many of us to go on ‘auto-pilot’. For some this may be fine and dandy, but for those who feel the word “monotony” is a noun from Hades, it is not “fine” or “dandy”!
Does the word and its adjective brother (monotonous) sound like long fingernails on a school chalkboard to you when it comes out of someone’s mouth or when read? To get out of this awful state we need to constantly give ourselves something to work towards. Challenges allow us to break the monotony (or painful noise) of daily life. To me, the definition for the word challenge is: an act that pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to change your perspective. Without a proper challenge to yourself on a daily basis, how will you truly know what you are capable of?
Many generations prior to ours would have scoffed at our daily to-do lists; get coffee, drive Johnny to school, and go sit in front of a computer screen all day. How about crossing the Atlantic Ocean for a month to try and get a job in which you worked 14 hours of hard labor for the equivalent of a few dollars an hour? I can hear them shouting if they were here. My grandfather, just as many grandfathers walked to school uphill both ways! In retrospect it may not have been that extreme and in truth not possible, but we all get the point. It was rough.
Now I’m not saying sitting in an office all day is a cake walk. In fact, it is probably one hell of a mental workout. The same four walls day in and day out with the same people, same jokes, same routine, same everything is sure to drive the best of us a bit batty. If they would have warned us in grade school that this is what we are all striving for, I’m sure many of us would opt-out. I personally would do many jobs before being stuck in a cubicle.
It all goes back to that monotony word. Though having seen many office workers at work, it’s probably not all bad. Office workers remind me of Hobbits. They take breakfast (coffee,) middle-breakfast (bathroom,) pre-lunch (cigarette,) lunch (crappy fast food,) and the breaks go on. After the constant social media checks and online search for a new cubicle job, they probably work in all about an hour. Am I using a stereotype? Of course I am. But a wise Italian man with a mustache once told me “just because it’s a stereotype, doesn’t mean there isn’t truth to it.”
So how does a modern person challenge themselves? Fear not, for I will explain many ways that I have found myself challenged over the years either by planning it or by chance. As I am not a trained challenge professional I will include a do-at your own risk disclaimer: I can in no way condone doing many of these things if you have people who rely on you or if it will put you in debt in some way. I will, however, tell you about myself and my situation as a guide.
I will come right out and say it; I am not a thrill seeker, nor an adrenaline junky. I enjoy life, so much so that I prefer to live it. I am very practical and a bit of a minimalist. I was fortunate enough to have a good head on my shoulders as a young adult and did not enter the college debt wheel, nor did I fall into any form of debt. I may not own much, but I don’t owe either. I’ve never made much money in life, but since I’m debt free it has never really mattered. I don’t have children, pets or anyone else who relies on me that can’t take care of themselves. I have had many jobs in life and wore many hats, especially when it’s cold. I am a Caucasian American male with the added bonus of being what this society deems ‘good-looking’. Those last little facts have either helped or hindered me when challenging myself. Because of my journey through life and my choices thus far, I am fortunate enough to have certain freedoms. I tell you these things to give you an understanding of the fact that anyone can and should challenge themselves. It comes down to a matter of responsibility and choice.
The first and most obvious challenge a person can take to change their perception is to travel abroad. If you have talked to anyone that has traveled outside of this country, the first thing they will say to you is: “you have to try it!” Nothing puts things into better perspective then seeing how other people live. The closer to ‘Third World’, the better. To feel the energy, and experience a different society can really bring to light all the things we take for granted here in America. Traveling to a country whose culture is very different from ours like China or Japan can be enlightening as well. A challenge that I found intriguing when I first left our great shores is the way the world perceives Americans. You see, it is very hard to hide the fact that we are American because we stick out like sore thumbs in many countries due to what we wear and how we act. Being a blond-haired, blue-eyed American is like a double whammy. Many people treat you differently and if you travel enough, you know why; Americans have very little respect for other cultures. I’ve spent much of my time in other countries in vein trying to get people away from the ‘typical American’ stereotype. Damn stereotypes!
Work a Different Job
This challenge I use often. Sometimes by choice, sometimes out of necessity. As I said before, I have worked many jobs, some better than others. In my opinion, everyone should work in the service industry at some point in their lives. I have spent many years at different restaurant jobs, from dishwasher to manager. Nothing is a better study of human behavior, and there are not many jobs that can temper your ego as well as the service industry.
I have spent the better part of five years as an actor and model in New York City and have enjoyed many of the perks of the job. Though I have to admit, it is not like TV and you need a good sense of humor if you would like to make it in the business. Since I have gotten a bit soft working in the business for a while, I recently decided to go back to a general labor job to ground myself a bit and spent two weeks working as a bicycle courier. Since I am a proficient city bike rider, I figured I would give it a go. Now mind you I am in excellent shape at my age (turning 34 this week) or at least I like to think I am. I must say, riding eight hours a day 20-30 miles around the city was pretty painful and reminded me that I’m no longer a spring chicken. But otherwise, it was worth the effort. I was fortunate enough to witness true discrimination from people as they viewed me as a courier. After being on set and having everyone bow to my every need, it was nice to be reminded of my place. I was able to remember that I am no better or worse than anyone, and to appreciate the lengths at which many people have to go to make a living. It is good to experience different jobs that have different social acceptances once in a while If possible for you. I suggest trying a new job, every few years to either remind yourself that your current job is not so bad or to see if you might like to follow a different career path.
Stop Using Credit Cards
This can actually be a challenge for people who have their checks direct deposited and are rarely in banks anymore. It can also be difficult for people who have to wait a few months to receive pay (one of the downsides of the entertainment business). Many people, especially those that read this site, know the hidden dangers of credit cards and still refuse to give them up. The credit companies know what they are doing and can entice even the best of us. The challenge can be to stop using them all together for a month and then build up from there. Carrying and using cash is liberating. You will find that you spend much less all around when you use something physical to make a purchase. You get the added bonus of seeing the surprised/confused look on people’s faces when you pay in cash!
Live in Another Country
This is a challenge I will be taking on myself next year. I plan on being an expat in South America for at least a year, possibly longer. I can’t give you much advice about it as I have yet to do it, but I feel it will be an amazing experience. I am excited to attempt to learn a new language and live amongst a different culture. My plan is to labor for room and board on many of the farms in South America learning a new trade in turn. This is obviously an advanced challenge, but it is not out of the question for many who work for a global company or have skills in a field that are up and coming. You can either try and get transferred to a different country through your job or start sending your résumé around. There are many websites that can help you find jobs anywhere in the world.
Being an avid outdoorsman (or woman) can be challenging especially to those of us who grew up in an urban setting. Between the bugs, elements, lack of hygienic systems, and all around discomfort it can seriously test your will. I have to say though, not much can compare to the sense of accomplishment one feels after traveling on your own two feet through miles of backcountry with nothing but the bare essentials strapped to your back. It can seriously change your whole perspective on what acceptable levels of comfort and cleanliness are. I have completed numerous trips and have found hidden stores of stamina and perseverance I would have never known I was capable of had I not pushed my personal limits.
Now I will point out that getting into any new hobby requires research and gear. Though the older I get the more I go back to the basic gear while camping. You can, and should, start small at first. Possibly with day-hikes, leading to car camping. After slowly getting comfortable with all the fun sounds you hear around you at night (don’t worry, the thin nylon tent will protect you from Smokey) you can start to plan multi-night trips. This challenge is even better with some close friends or family members to share in the experience.
Some may find volunteering a bit of a challenge. Not due to the work per say, but because many groups make volunteering very difficult for everyday people that want to lend a helping hand on occasion. Much of the resistance seems to come from a misguided idea that if you don’t feel a need or want to volunteer your time to others every day, why should you be allowed when it is convenient for your schedule? It is my personal opinion that many more people would be willing to lend a helping hand if they felt that it was a bit more appreciated.
Now whatever the case may be, it does not matter at the end of the day as you can treat the whole affair as a challenge. Self-gratification and a unique perspective can be gained for those willing to battle the red-tape. Helping those in need differentiates us from other animals and is one of the fundamental traits that make us human.
Ride Your Bike or Walk
Though this is easier said than done in many parts of the country, it is almost a no-brainer here in New York City. If you are often on a soap box complaining of carbon foot prints and greenhouse gasses then this challenge is for you. Not only do you get relatively cheap exercise, but you get to be in the great outdoors while either commuting to work or while running errands. And if you decide to get a bicycle you can drive your friends crazy with an annoying bell! Not to mention you will be less of a hypocrite.
I have been in states that have made travel by foot or bike all but possible, and have received looks of astonishment at having walked across a highway to a store across the street. But, some wise person somewhere who probably lived in a town with poor city planning once said; where there is a will, there’s a way! Get out there and do it. There are always safer back roads and hidden streets. Get a hold of a map, and make it happen.
Live, Love and Stop Procrastinating!
You know, it’s so easy to get disenchanted these days with this crazy ride we call life. With all the concern of where this society has gone wrong and the finger pointing of whose to blame, it’s easy for life to pass us by in a blink. With more and more awakening to the reality that this system has major fundamental flaws, the fear of change is starting to paralyze many from living the life they are meant to live. In the end, all you can really do to affect change is personal to you and your own responsibility. We sometimes need to be reminded to let go of the things we can’t control and attempt to take control of the kind of experiences we fill our lives with. So get moving and keep the challenges coming! What’s the worst that can happen; you will either gain another feather in the cap or have a great story to tell!