Recently, I assigned myself a challenge.
It began as idle curiosity; daily radiation treatments in the early morning had me taking an alternative route to work for two months. There was one spot in the road that just seemed to poke at me – there was nothing physically there, but an unexpected energy seemed to radiate from the barren ground. I considered perhaps it was some odd side effect from treatment, and let it go. I let several months pass, and went back. The pull was still there.
I accessed some historical maps, and learned there was once a town in the same spot. Thus began what I refer to as “falling down the rabbit hole” where I research a subject until I’m satisfied or it gets too difficult.
At some point, I realized, I’m oftentimes too easily satisfied; I don’t push through with vigor when a situation gets difficult. And something was calling my attention.
Now came the personal challenge. I resolved that not only would I finish researching this beyond the difficult obstacles, but that I would also share what I learned. The latter would require being meticulous, thorough, and certain. It would also require overcoming my introversion and immense fear of public speaking.
I encountered so many roadblocks, the project felt doomed to fail. But at that point, I was already on a museum’s calendar to speak as their monthly presenter. At one point I reached out to the museum’s director and told him I didn’t think I had enough to fill the 45 minute block of time I had been given. He encouraged me to at least get it to 30 minutes…and if I couldn’t, to spend a quantity of time talking about why I couldn’t. There was no turning back.
I had been working on the project during weekends and evenings for a couple of months. I realized that this wouldn’t suffice, and ended up taking a week of PTO three weeks before the presentation. On the flipside, this happened to be the same time my 8 year old daughter was out of school for winter break. So every morning we’d wake as though it was time to go to school, but instead we’d go to a museum, a historical society, a library, or a cemetery – oftentimes a mix of these places in the same day.
Finally, the presentation was complete – just shy of 50 pages. It was evening when I finished, and I dropped the whole darn compendium on the bed next to my resting spouse and crashed into bed. My daughter came in at the same time, and exclaimed “Mommy! Is this what you’ve been working on when we were at the libraries?”
It was. And I realized in that moment no matter how the lecture turned out, my daughter witnessed something important: her mother challenging herself; investing time, effort, and energy into a project, and seeing it come into fruition. No matter how badly I could possibly bumble through the presentation, it had already been completely worth the effort.
And as it turned out? My presentation received a full house, and in the end got high marks.
It’s so easy to meet minimum commitments and be done each day; however, I think it’s imperative to share how having a little hobby project to work on made me sharper, more engaged, and less fearful. In the course of my project, I met people I would never have otherwise met, learned how to utilize resources I didn’t realize were available to me, and improved a lot of my existing skills. More than anything, I learned how to appreciate that if you’re not challenging yourself and working to expand your existing skill set, you’re in neutral. And shifting out of neutral feels really good.
Bottom line, if there’s something that interests you – make time for it, and make it work for you. You won’t regret the investment.