Challenge is, perhaps unsurprisingly, high up on the list of Core Values for me. I try to tackle hard things in my life, e.g. getting a Ph.D., but I also have framed numerous periods of my life around the idea of Personal Challenges. I began writing semi-regularly in the blog in January 2020 as part of my plan to do a year of one-month challenges. I’ve done the Lentil Challenge, Alphabet Challenge, and eight years of Oscar Party, which is a tough challenge in itself. Even this Core Values meditation exercise is a sort of Challenge. I think what I like about the challenges is that they are difficult, but that they have clear goals and boundaries. Because sometimes, or often really, figuring out and clearly defining a problem can be the hardest part.
The word ‘Challenge’ also reminds me of my middle school, which was literally called Challenge School. It started out as a magnet school with no money in a building co-occupied by the district book distribution center and the high school for troubled and pregnant teens. I like to imagine its creation as the scene in The Shawshank Redemption when the main character finally gets books for the prison library with the promise that he would stop writing them. In this case, it may have been PTA mothers hounding the district until they were like ‘Fine, here’s $20 and some rooms in this multi-use building. Please stop harassing us.’ The first few years were a little ‘Wild West’, with strange experimentations with class schedules, etc. But starting at fourth grade in the 4-8 grade school, did provide me with unique benefits, specifically the ability to take higher level classes. And I progressed such that in 8th grade, I started each day at high school taking math, Spanish, and science before going back to middle school in the afternoon. I sometimes struggle to take on challenges now, but it is good to look back and remember that I have taken on hard things. Sure, much of that may have been due to nudges in that direction by my parents, but I was still the one in the challenging classrooms, way beyond my age, getting the work done.
The etymology of the word is quite interesting. Apparently, in the early 14th century, the word began as ‘something one can be accused of, a fault, blemish’. It continued to have accusatory connotations until the 17th century. From the mid-15th century, it was an objection in the legal sense or a ‘calling to fight’. It wasn’t until 1954 that it was used for a ‘difficult task’. It is interesting to see how it evolved from a malicious accusation to a difficult task to be overcome. It invokes aspects of The American Dream; instead of ideas of doing something different than your father and his father before him being a ‘blemish’, they are seen as an admirable obstacle to overcome. And so I will continue to put forth those admirable obstacles, to Challenge myself to move forward.