This is a list of 10 major growth challenges that are shared by all humans, and which encompass the whole of our lifetimes. In other words, these sub-adventures of life are timeless and universal.
While there comes a point for each where you are on the “other” side of the challenge (i.e. maintaining the desired results is easier than turning your back on the challenge), there is always more growth to be experienced in regards to each challenge. There is more to be learned, more work to be done, and overall more to be enjoyed.
Note: These are not organized in any meaningful order.
Scarcity to Abundance
Shifting from scarcity to abundance is about being able to consider and trust that there is more available and possible than you may think. You have more energy, intelligence, creativity, potential, freedom, and internal resources (e.g. discipline, courage, knowledge) than you give yourself credit for; and, if you don’t, you have more ability to develop them than you think you do (I promise, you do).
Similarly, more external resources lay in your reach than you give the world credit for: more of the things needed for physical survival and thriving, more empowering relationships, more people who can support you, more information that can educate and guide you, and overall more access to these things.
Another way of framing this is that it’s about shifting from wanting to having. Rather than fuss about all the things you think that you want, you have what you want; and, simultaneously, you want what you have. Whatever the state of your physical circumstances may be, you recognize and experience that there ultimately is enough there.
When you undergo this process, you realize that many of your supposed desires have been conditioned in you. The ideas you’ve had about abundance were not exactly consciously chosen. A big part of this process is coming into clarity about your true desires, which are congruent with who you really are (rather than what you assume you ought to be).
“True desire” simply refers to what you can appreciate. If you can’t appreciate the things you have, it’s not necessarily that you have too much: rather, you simply have things that you can’t appreciate. You don’t really want them. Abundance involves not only obtaining the things you want, but also purging the things you don’t want. The things you want and the things you don’t want cannot exist in the same space. Your attention is always either on one or the other.
Finally, the shift from scarcity to abundance entails a definition of challenge (how relevant to this list!). In the scarcity paradigm, challenge means roughly the same as struggle. In the abundance paradigm, on the other hand, challenge means the same as growth experience.
The energy of abundance is much lighter and calmer than that of scarcity, as it has more foresight. Rather that panic and rush, Abundance pauses a moment, trusts in the best, and responds with curiosity and creativity.
(Sidenote: Out of the challenges on this list, this is the one I’m most engaged with right now.)
2. From Objective Reality to Subjective Reality
Subjective reality is the perspective that the world we live in is essentially a dream, whereby all of its contents are programmed by the subconscious mind. If we can become lucid, we can consciously influence the dream. Ultimately, we are all characters in this shared dream; yet, all you can know and influence of the dream is what you, one of the dreamers, currently perceive.
Objective reality is the perspective that the stuff of this world is made first of physical matter. Consciousness, if it exists, arises from physical matter. This is a world of atoms, which create objects.
The point is not to declare subjective reality as the one true reality, nor to make it your primary perspective always and forever. Rather, the point is to be able to seriously consider that the stuff of reality is primarily consciousness, rather than physical matter, and thus the reality you experience is a reflection of the contents of your consciousness.
In short, the challenge is to be able to contemplate that you are 100% responsible for everything that you experience. Whether you directly caused it does not matter. What does matter is that you are the one experiencing it, and however you react to that experience, you are responsible for that reaction.
The subjective perspective also pushes you to consider that physical survival and the physical things of this world are not necessarily what matters. Rather than live for temporary things that will ultimately physically transform one way or another (including your own body), you can live for what is timeless and non-physical: in other words, you can live for principles.
There is a lot packed into this one challenge. That’s what makes it so worthy.
3. Realizing it’s Not About You
When you focus on your petty fears, needs, and small wants, your life doesn’t go very far. You create anxiety for yourself. You disconnect yourself from the external world, and this can create depression.
This is a big, beautiful world that we live in, with a lot of places to see, people to meet, and things to experience. An endless number of reflections of yourself exist everywhere, if only you can see them. You can connect with any aspect of existence that you like. You are limited only by yourself.
Personal development is anything but personal. Your growth as a person is a way of serving the whole universe.
What if you were the universe itself, and you happened to find yourself in the body you inhabit now? How would you live? How would you relate to other beings? What would you do? How would you view yourself? How would you treat yourself?
Interestingly, when you cease to live with such a preoccupation with your personal world, you increase the quality of that personal world.
4. Developing an Intuition
Developing an intuition (or “gut instinct”) is really about being able to trust yourself. Possibility isn’t limited to the cold, hard sensory data you are currently receiving, nor to what you consider to be reasonable and logical. You can cultivate a sort of “sixth” sensory channel, by which you can process information in a way that isn’t necessarily tied to nor the same as what you physically perceive.
5. Defining and Refining a Life Purpose
This is your reason to be. You don’t necessarily need a purpose of your choosing to have an enjoyable life. Consider, however, that you are always fulfilling some purpose. Perhaps you work for a certain company: by doing so, you contribute to the fulfillment of that company’s purpose. Likewise, every time you buy something, you perpetuate the purpose of the people selling that product.
Are those really the purposes you want to fulfill—and the only ones, at that? If you don’t have a purpose, you are working toward someone else’s.
On the other hand, to consciously choose a purpose for your life is to establish that everything you do is done for you. There is no need to be dragged by life by external influences. Instead, you can be the one to declare what your life is all about.
Defining a life purpose is ultimately about organizing your life. Rather than let your days fill with random, mindless, disjointed activities, there is a coherence to the stuff of your life. All of your activities converge at one point, a point which is greater than the sum of all of them. This point is your purpose.
When you have a purpose, everything that you do, think, and experience is meaningful. A purpose encourages and enables you to live with true greatness, as though fulfilling a destiny or following the path of a compelling story.
My life purpose is to Grow courageously, love fully, and live intelligently.
6. From Reacting to Thinking, Deciding, and Acting with Initiative
You can choose your thoughts, beliefs, and actions consciously. You can do so without any external prompting to. You can live from your own initiative. There’s no need to be dragged through life, merely waiting for things to happen.
Don’t twiddle your thumbs. Don’t get caught in the overwhelm of things that make you fearful and irrational. Put all your attention on and deliberately think through different aspects of life. You don’t have to merely continue doing things the way you always have.
You can look at the data and consult your conscience, asking, Is this right for me? Whenever the answer is no, that is a call to investigate, reevaluate, and to be in touch with your thoughts and feelings. Explore new avenues—new ways of doing and thinking about things. The number of different perspectives from which you can live this life is endless: the variety is vast, too. There is no shortage of ways of relating to life to be explored.
The more you explore, the more you can approach life in a way that makes sense to you—and that is free of fear and automatic, nonconsciously-chosen reactions.
7. Respecting Your Body
What foods are right for you? What forms of movement strengthen your body, and how much time should you spend engaging in them? Do you tend to ignore your body, perhaps spending much of your time on your butt? What substances are okay to put in your body, and which are not? Is your body as strong and capable as you’d like it to be? Does most of the attention you give your body involve trying to reduce the pain you’re experiencing in it? How consciously do you go about relating to and using your body?
These are simple, perhaps even primitive, matters, yet they are highly important—and require conscious effort to master.
You can abuse your body. You can keep it in a state that just barely enables you to drag yourself through your day. You can try to force it to look or otherwise be a certain way. You can do things to it that reduce its energy, and make it more difficult to use.
Or, you can respect your body. You can explore ways of raising its vitality. You can love it as it is, meanwhile gently crafting it to optimal health and strength. You can nourish and exercise your body such that it becomes more energetic, easier to use, and overall more enjoyable to experience.
The body can be a powerful, reliable tool, and a source of wonderful pleasure. Or, it can be a miserable, agonizing burden—a source of suffering.
Every decision you make counts.
8. Choosing and living in alignment with a Polarity
Behind every human thought, decision, and action, there is energy. This energy can take one of two forms: love, or fear.
In every single moment, you are living out of either love or fear. There is no escaping this. You can alternate between the two from one moment to the next, but this does not change the fact of their presence.
To polarize is to firmly answer this question: Do I trust the universe? To answer yes is to align with love. To answer no is to align with fear.
When you are aligned with love, there is no need for battles or struggles. The world is your ally, and you can trust that whatever happens is for the best.
When you are aligned with fear, on the other hand, your life is an immense struggle to survive and, hopefully, to dominate the universe. The only way to secure your survival in this universe is to conquer it. This may entail stepping on others in order to get your way. In your mind, the end justifies the means. Things like ethics and empathy are petty matters, and you have no concern for them.
To be aligned with love is to be in a state of outflow. You relate to the universe on a basis of giving and creativity. You don’t have to worry about surviving, nor do you need to control the external world. Instead, you can share and create joyfully. You are the ultimate source of your energy, and are happy to let it flow out into the world via your creations and by the way you live.
To be aligned with fear is to be in a state of inflow. Fear is all about getting external resources into you: you must draw from their energy to survive. The irony of this is that, while you are attempting to dominate the universe, you simultaneously need it: it is your source of energy. Without it, you are nothing. Are you the slave, then, or the master? Perhaps you’re fighting a battle that can’t be won.
The reason to polarize is to increase your power and focus. When you make a firm answer to the question of whether to trust the universe, you set your life into a particular direction. The further you travel in that direction, the more momentum you gain to keep travelling in that direction. The farther you go, the farther you can go. With each step, you increase the potential of what you are able to do.
You can live at the whim of those who have polarized, or you can become such a person yourself. Will you play a substantial role in the story of this world, or will you sit back and wait for someone else to take the lead? Will you be a hero, a villain, or a bystander?
9. Living your life for itself, rather than trying to make it appear a certain way
This is the challenge that essentially introduced me to personal development, and by god was it hard. The struggle I had before I consciously recognized and faced this challenge nearly sent me to my grave. This is what Living a Real Life is all about.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, in “Self-Reliance”:
Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world—as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding. I ask primary evidence that you are a man, and refuse this appeal from the man for his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference whether I do or forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent.
Each one of us must go about our own way of living. We can’t do things just to live up to some dogma or arbitrary movie-star image we have of who we are. Instead, we have to vigilantly root out ideas that tell us we have to live a certain way in order to be worthy; and, we have to live authentically, as who we really are.
You are not an image, façade, or mere archetype. You are a whole, living, breathing being. When you live from being, rather than trying hard to do particular things so you can appear a certain way, you end up living a more enjoyable life; and, one with more objective success, too.
10. Being Present
Another way to state this challenge is moving continually. I like to say, Keep moving, but never rush. That is the essence of being present.
To be present is to not ruminate on the past, nor to project thought of any sort on to the future. Your mind is nowhere but here. You are immersed in the experience you are currently having—so much so that you forget to remember that you are currently having an experience at all. You simply are there. You just are.
Indeed, a worthy challenge of life is to be awake to it as it unfolds before you now. Don’t distract yourself with what has already happened nor with what could possibly occur. Be here now.
I recognize that these all sound eerily the same. That was not my intention, though I expected that to happen once I started to write the descriptions for each.
I’m curious as to whether these challenges will hold their place, in my mind, in the coming decades. Will these still be the basic challenges I am experiencing 50 years from now? Or will I (and others) be facing something else entirely?
Does any particular challenge stand out to you? Which one? Why might that be? What could you do about it now?
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