I remember how happy I was on my graduation from the Royal Military College of Canada. The double-major I chose had the heaviest course load of any program at my college, so each fall and spring exam session was a gruelling non-stop blur. I was so happy to never endure another exam for the rest of my life!
As I transitioned to my new career, that hope was somewhat dashed, but it wasn’t so bad. There were some tests, but nothing that really pushed me to my limits as did the exams I endured in college. And what tests I did have to take became fewer as I progressed in my career.
Our society is set up to minimize discomfort, but I’m not sure that it is necessarily a good thing. Without opportunities to measure our abilities, there is little incentive to further explore our potential. I’m grateful for not having to relive the pressure of test-taking like I had in college, but on the other hand, I miss the opportunity to measure my abilities and push myself to a new level of performance.
I believe it is important to proactively put challenges in front of oneself in order to provoke growth and development, before life imposes a test that one might not be ready to take.
I was fortunate in the early days of my career to surround myself with people who wanted to improve themselves on many levels. As the number of tests imposed on me by others declined, my friends encouraged me to start choosing other occasions to expand my experience of life. I took up running, which led me to start testing myself in 10km and marathon runs. Then I graduated to biathlons and triathlons. I didn’t win, but that was not the point. It was about besting my previous performances and discovering my other strengths.
Then during my masters degree, I discovered long distance cycle-touring, and I tested myself on a Seattle to San Francisco ride which helped me to redefine how I saw myself. Moving to Western Canada, I discovered backcountry hiking and skiing, and two significant tests I fondly remember are hiking the West Coast Trail and traversing the Wapta Icefields. When I left the military, the tests I set for myself shifted to more spiritual and emotional pursuits, by taking the Context Associated series of courses and embarking on the path to becoming an assistant facilitator. Then there was my career change to become a coach, and the courses and experiences that I chose to undertake to develop myself on that new path.
And all during this time there were other lesser challenges that I gave myself that allowed me to explore my creativity, my analytical skills and my physical fitness.
What I notice is that each of these tests helped me to define who I am and what I’m capable of. The tests I chose for myself helped me to build my confidence and especially to help build my capacity to overcome the obstacles of everyday life.
As I reflect back on the tests I’ve set for myself over the years, I notice some elements that helped to make them a success for me. Therefore, here are some guidelines to help you choose a test that will help you to succeed:
1. Make it something that you choose to accomplish. Tests imposed by others are not as meaningful as ones that you choose of your own free will. It should be something meaningful to you, in alignment with your values, your passions, your strengths and your goals.
2. It is focused on a particular date and time. Nothing focuses the mind like a deadline.
3. It sets a high-water mark of your capabilities. Choose or establish a test that causes you to stretch yourself in an area of your life that you want to improve.
4. It inspires confidence in yourself. Completing this test makes you proud, building your confidence in all areas of your life.
5. Preparing for it helps you establish positive rituals in your life. Select a test that requires discipline and endurance as you prepare for it. The longer you need to prepare (between three to twelve months), the better the positive changes you can create for yourself.
6. It is something special. Your test should be something out of the ordinary, which creates positive memories and from which you can extract valuable life experiences. By selecting a positive event, you can share it with others and even inspire other people to complete it.
7. It is something that you win just by participating. Avoid a pass/fail or win/lose test.
8. It tests one or more of the dimensions of living. A test does not only have to be a physical or a mental feat. Consider how it expands your emotional and spiritual ways of being.
During the last couple of years, my annual test was to complete a half-marathon (21km) race at the end of each summer. In 2006 and 2007 my focus was the Demi-marathon des Deux-Rives here in Quebec City, and in 2008 I completed the Toronto Half-Marathon. Various other tests I have given myself were to participate in a silent retreat, compete in Toastmasters public speaking contests and taking on leadership roles in community organizations.
But in 2009 life took over and I did not plan or prepare for a half-marathon, which caused me to set aside my personal fitness habits. I believe that by not testing myself, I allowed my physical and mental health to decline, and given the challenges I had to face in the following months, it was a contributing factor to my burnout experience this past spring.
By choosing tests that challenge us to stretch our abilities, we become better equipped to face the peak demands of everyday life. Well-chosen challenges help to develop the reserves and strengthen our confidence and our courage to transform the status-quo around us.
I strongly suggest that you take time right now to choose a test of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual fitness, something that you will complete in the next twelve months. Use this opportunity to measure your mettle. Then when life decides to impose her trials upon you, you will be up to the challenge and pass with honors.
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