- Brendan Stec
Overcoming the resistance to embrace challenges
Why Superman got boring—The importance of challenges—the Resistance
By the 1980’s, Superman literally could do anything: eviscerate buildings with laser beam eyes, survive hydrogen bomb blasts, manhandle entire planets…you name it. To the writers’ surprise, comic book readers suddenly found this… really boring.
When John Byrne stepped-in and wrote Man of Steel in 1986, he developed a new, more interesting Superman who had a lot of his extravagant powers stripped away – along with some added vulnerabilities (this time, he would fall in love with Lois Lane first).
It turns out that these changes made Superman more human and more relatable. There was now a possibility he could get injured or not win over the girl. With these limitations, there was now potential for failure and the enthralling crescendo and diminuendo of the true hero’s journey.
He could now face and overcome true challenges, which after all, is the whole purpose (and appeal) of a hero.
And so Superman became interesting again.
I love to think about how strongly this concept applies to our own lives as well.
Without challenges, our lives are boring, too. We don’t have many interesting stories to tell others—or experience ourselves.
How boring would it be if we couldn't fail?
A Frustrating Paradox
When Reinhold Messner summited Mt. Everest without any supplemental oxygen, that was badass. When socialite Sandy Pittman hiked it with like $100,000 worth of fancy gear and a group of professional climbers to guide her, she was (perhaps a bit unfairly) ridiculed by the media.
They both hiked the same mountain, so what was the difference? The level of challenge.
As the psychologist Jordan Peterson writes in his new book, Beyond Order,
“It is a strange and paradoxical fact that there is a reciprocal relationship between the worth of something and the difficulty of accomplishing it.”
A frustrating paradox indeed.
Participation trophies are, unfortunately, worthless.
This is one of those facts that these seems rather obvious after you read about it.
But it doesn’t feel obvious when you have to live up to its implications. When you get paged at 3 in the morning to go into the hospital for work, have to work indoors all weekend on an important proposal or submit your article to 30 editors before it gets published.
You ask yourself: why did I choose this career path? Why on earth am I dealing with this? You tell yourself you’d rather be in your woolen pajamas watching Glengarry Glen Ross and eating Indian food. Ok, Good Will Hunting.
But secretly, you love that it's not easy. You feel a sense of pride that you showed up and made a difference when it would’ve been easier to stay in bed.
Deep down, I think most of us sense there is a cost of doing things that are too easy and too comfortable. There isn’t that same sense of satisfaction. We feel bored. After a while, complacency sets in. It’s not a fun place to be, at least in my experience.
The only alternative, then—as if any of us really had a choice—is to accept these challenges and the inconveniences, stresses, and responsibilities that are packaged with them.
Obvious captain is obvious.
But why is this so hard to do?
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember onerule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
—Steven Pressfield (The War of Art)
Inside us is a force that tells us we’re not good enough, that we should just put off the work until tomorrow, that it’s easier to perish under the infinite scroll of addictive TikTok videos than actually sit down, straighten our backs and do the thing we know we’ve been wanting to do for weeks now.
Writer Steven Pressfield calls this force the Resistance.
Because the Resistance tells us we’re not good enough, it consequently tells us to shy away from any challenges that would make us uncomfortable. The Resistance is dangerous because it always shows up when there is something difficult, but important, we desperately need to do, and it always tries very hard to make sure we don’t do it.
I think back to my 7th grade baseball team. There I was… standing out in center field in late May, the youngest and smallest player on the team. I worked hard and earned the right to start every game, even those crucial playoff games, and yet… and yet… before every pitch I couldn’t help but say to myself.
I hope this guy doesn’t hit the ball to me.
I was afraid to fail, afraid of the challenge. That was an acute form of the Resistance.
I’m not going to pretend I know anything at all about how exactly the Resistance exists in your life. All I know is that it exists. In my experience, it can take many forms: procrastination, self-sabotage, fear of branching out/trying something new/leaving one’s comfort zone, etc.
When there is a reciprocal relationship between how valuable something is, and how easy it is to accomplish, my question is: can we afford to let the Resistance tell us to stick with what is easy and comfortable?
When people who have reached old age discuss their biggest regrets, they typically mention the things they didn’t do. Can we afford to miss out on those opportunities?
Can we afford to say, “I hope the ball doesn’t come to me?”
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