Challenge Yourself

One of the things I constantly stress with my students is to move outside their comfort zone. It is only outside our comfort zones that we learn and grow — evolve if you will. While this is important for students, it is equally important for the rest of us. When was the last time you challenged yourself? To learn something new, to attempt something new, to simply move away from the comfortable and familiar ruts we all create.

I haven’t always been good at this myself. The comfortable is so very comfortable after all. Plus, life is busy and it is hard enough to handle the things I need to do let alone make time for new things. But I do try, during the summer, when life is just slightly less busy and full (fractionally), to push myself, to challenge myself.

One of the challenges I have undertaken for the past two summers has been to write more poetry. Despite four post-secondary English degrees, my poetry education is lacking and I still find writing poetry to be a very challenging, sometimes frightening, experience, but the more I read poetry, write poetry, and talk with other poets (I cringe to even call myself a poet) the more I come to appreciate that we all need more poetry in our lives. Poetry helps us think about ideas, both big and small, and explore those ideas in more manageable chunks than different text forms. I recently started subscribing to the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day and I have found so many ideas to think about and write about. One of the ways that I challenged myself to write more poetry was to participate in LexPoMo – a month-long poetry writing challenge for Lexington, Kentucky, and the surrounding region (seems like all of Kentucky!). Last year I wrote a dozen poems and this year I wrote 16 poems. June is a super busy month for me (even though I’m officially not working!) because the Morehead Writing Project has a lot going on, so I am proud to reach both numbers and I think this year’s poems were better than last year’s so that is also a point of pride. Part of this challenge for me was reading The Poet’s Companion and working my way through a number of exercises in the book. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in writing poetry, but continue to struggle (like me).

Another way I like to push myself each summer is to participate in CLMOOC (Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration). This community spans the globe and involves a lot of educators but others who simply want to have fun and learn together. There is a lot of playful innovation and experimentation as we contemplate some serious questions about learning and human growth. Every summer I learn something new and am pushed outside my comfort zone.

What will you do to challenge yourself? When was the last time you challenged yourself? Do you think there are benefits to challenging yourself on a regular basis?