Growth through Challenge

I recently discovered what it was like to experience growth through a challenge. It’s not that this doesn’t happen every day because life is filled with challenges and I don’t often let the challenges of my position get me down, but this one felt different to me because it felt more like an obstacle.

Then I begin to ponder and think about what the difference really was between an obstacle and a challenge. I think sometimes we think of obstacles as things that are in our way and that we cannot move or change them. A challenge is something we think we can overcome and in the process will make us grow. It is like when we challenge ourselves to complete a 5k, then a half-marathon.  We know that there will be growth through achieving both and that pushing ourselves (eventually) to the half-marathon provides tremendous growth both mentally and physically . I discovered this week that both the challenge and the obstacle can force growth upon the individual.

I think for me the difference was that I thought the obstacle was always going to be in my way and I would never find a way to get around it or move it. Even though that obstacle is still there, what I have changed is my approach to getting around that obstacle.  Think about it…if something is an obstacle it is defined as “something that obstructs or hinders progress”.  A challenge is defined as “a call to take part in a contest or competition, especially a duel” or “an objection or query as to the truth of something, often with an implicit demand for proof.” Even when I reflected on the definitions for both challenge and obstacle, the difference was very clear to me.  In the first example which implies a dual there would be a winner and a loser…a fierce competition until one person comes out the victor.  The second definition speaks of proof which is so ingrained in our heads.  I think of  when we  utilize data to inform instruction, provide specific, measurable, feedback for teachers, or identify evidence in student progress. When considering the very definition of obstacle I knew that I was going to have to find a way to get around what was facing me.

This week I learned that it was okay to feel uncomfortable while progress is happening or to feel out of sorts  when navigating around that obstacle.  But when there’s no progress it’s just frustrating and feels like an effort in futility. Discomfort and challenge are acceptable when there is growth. Without growth, however is merely frustration.

To combat this I learned that I had to do two things.

1. Step away from the problem and get a fresh perspective.   For me, that meant finding some time to “turn it off” and think about some other things, then go back to the initial obstacle.  This process provides the space we need for growth and clarity.

2. Completely and 100% change my focus and mindset to positivity! We all face challenges that we feel will overcome us but the best way for me to overcome those challenges is to recalibrate my way of thinking and utilize positive strategies to get back where I need to be mentally.  Just like great coaches know how to motivate their players and great teachers know how to inspire their students, I needed to know how to motivate myself…and I did.  By listening to music, reading, reflecting, re-identifying my role, and realizing that others look to me to “set the tone”, I found the strength to think of ways around the obstacle and apply strategies with success.

I’m not saying that obstacle isn’t there because it still is but in this case I found a way to get around the obstacle and utilize self-reflective strategies to move my goals forward.     I hope when that obstacle is in my way again, I continue to find the courage to find ways around it and/or remain open-minded about my personal growth through challenges and obstacles.


Author: karenwoodedu

Karen Wood is the Superintendent of Schools in Barnegat, NJ. With twenty-three years in education, Ms. Wood's career has been spent primarily in administration. She enjoys mentoring novice administrators and being connected to inspirational educators and leaders across the country.

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