I’ve always been puzzled by the idea of “seeking new challenges.” Seeking out something undefined except for its challengingness, its level of difficulty and hardship. And, this can become almost pathological for some as they look for yet another new challenge — a new foe to defeat, a new dragon to slay. It can all become forced and stressful. What’s more, constantly seeking new challenges could easily be a sign of psychological confusion.
Humans are problem-solving creatures. Actually, all creatures have to deal with adversity and to overcome obstacles in life. So, all creatures are in a sense, problem-solvers. It’s just that we are particularly good at it! Given this basic tendency that is innate to very existence, I find it odd that this should become the defining feature of what one does with their life.
Because everything is a challenge of sorts — much of daily life involves creative, problem solving. But, perhaps ‘seeking new challenges’ means something very different altogether? Perhaps, it is just an oblique description for a darker force.
Seeking new challenges or proving yourself?
I often encounter the case of the dissatisfied striver in my work, where whatever is achieved, it is never enough. Whatever foe is vanquished, there is no peace — only an ever-present sense of it somehow not being enough. So, they strive on, seeking the next thing and the next thing. Always seeking new challenges, but never feeling fulfilled by any.
The trouble is that this sort of seeking is just a smoke screen for the ego’s insecurity that seeks validation through external achievements. Whether career milestones or other status measures, the drive is to prove one’s self-worth by reference to external benchmarks.
Of course, all of this typically happens outside your conscious awareness.
Difficulty has no intrinsic value
You might even trick yourself into believing that that the more challenging something is, the more worthwhile it is, and therefore more validation it will give you. But, the degree of difficulty has no intrinsic value. What if someone else finds the same thing very easy?
This is not to say that whether or not you find something difficult is irrelevant. On the contrary, it is very informational. How you relate to a particular thing can teach you much about yourself. But, this is not the same thing as saying that a difficult activity is better or fundamentally more worthwhile. This is only an arbitrary narrative that one chooses to pin their self-worth to.
Beyond the trap of seeking new challenges
So, this way of relating to work and life is a trap. A trap that is disempowering because it distracts you from the value of doing something for its own sake. For the sheer curiosity and enthusiasm that it gives rise to within you.
If contentment and fulfilment are to be found in anything, they are to be found in the process. In the very act of doing. Always seeking new challenges only defers this ad infinitum — to some future place that is never reached.
The first step to breaking free is noticing your own tendencies. How addicted are you to seeking new challenges?
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.