We do not, in general, have a stable relationship with resistance as a teacher.

A man looks at a bear. The bear is climbing a tree, trying to swat down a nest full of stinging insects. They swarm around the bear in a frenzy, but the bear persists. Eventually the bear gets the nest down and even while the insects wage (what to them must be) the war of their lives against him, he opens the nest and licks at the golden substance within.

The man thinks to himself, “that must be amazing, to be worth all of that! I’ll do the same!”

The man has committed a grave error. He’s judged the outcome – about which, in reality, he knows nothing – simply by how hard it is to achieve.

Some people do the opposite, of course. They look at even the slightest bit of hard work or challenge and run the other way, and so miss out on many of life’s rewards. And some of us look at those people and disdain them, and in our efforts to distance ourselves from them philosophically, we go too hard in the other direction. We declare to ourselves, and others, that the harder something is to do, the more worthwhile it must be to do it.

Challenge is good. Resistance makes us stronger. But for what? We need to have a goal. If someone wants to summit Everest because it will be a tremendous personal accomplishment, make them proud of themselves, inspire others, join an elite group – wonderful! In preparing for such a feat, they also will probably do great things for their physical health and mental discipline. All fantastic.

But now imagine another person who looks at Mount Everest and says, “wow, it would be really, really hard to climb that – so something amazing must be at the top!” They will be very disappointed, to say the least, when they arrive at the peak.

The goal was the thing. We need a purpose to align with the challenge, even if we’re seeking the challenge for its own sake and not for any reward.

The man looking at the bear could say instead, “the bear was willing to do a lot to get at what was in that nest. But the bear has traits that I don’t have, like thick fur and great endurance. And I have skills that the bear doesn’t have, like money and access to grocery stores. So let me begin by figuring out what the bear’s goal actually was, and then figure out if I would even like that goal. After all, I’m not a bear, and I won’t necessarily even want to eat everything a bear wants to eat. But if I do decide that I want it, let me then decide if there’s a way to get it that doesn’t involve getting stung to death by a thousand angry bees.”

Now apply this to everything you do. Seek challenge and resistance when doing so benefits you. Avoid it when it’s simply in the way of your true goal, or when you’re tricking yourself into believing there’s some great treasure at the top of Mount Everest just because it’s hard to climb.

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