Overcoming challenges can help us realise our potential
By DANIEL LEE
“The young people of today don’t know the meaning of real pain, Daniel.
They have not gone through the challenges you’ve faced and I’m sure by sharing your life with them, they would understand that their challenges are nothing compared to yours.”
That was something a teacher once told me before I delivered a talk to a group of school students. I respectfully disagreed with the teacher as I believe pain is still pain, even if they come in different forms.
Who can say that the pain of being rejected by their classmates in school is any less than the pain of not being able to walk?
I believe our understanding of pain and how we deal with it needs to be explored, beyond just comparing it with another person’s definition or experience.
We need to know that pain is relative and that the severity of the pain is dependent on how we perceive and respond to it.
That being said, we can always draw inspiration from the way others respond to the pain they go through in life and discover how some individuals thrive in the face of adversity while others don’t.
Pain demands a response
Pain is a self-preservation mechanism designed to keep us from harm. Of all the sensations we experience, nothing warrants a need to act faster than that of the feeling of pain.
Accidentally touching the side of a boiling hot kettle would send signals to our brain to pull our hand away before we can even consciously think about it.
The throbbing pain from a sprained ankle tells us to ease off on the leg until it recovers and regains strength.
Pain comes in different forms. The most common pain we associate with is usually physical pain. However, emotional and psychological pain can play bigger roles in the way we perceive our world every day.
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An embarrassing experience in your first public speech would probably give you nightmares of public speaking in the future and make you think twice before attempting it again.
Whatever the form, one thing is for sure – pain demands a response. Of course, there is no right response to pain that is universal to everyone.
How we decide on our response however, will eventually differentiate those of us who overcome our challenges and thrive despite our circumstances from those who crack under the pressure of our challenges.
When I was younger, I was often bullied in school because of my disability. It was in primary five that a group of students banded together and made fun of me in front of the whole class. They laughed at me and called me “crippled boy”.
For a boy – at that age – to hear his peers laughing at him and degrading him in class was a pain that was beyond imagination. My self-worth and confidence was shattered as I could not fight back or defend myself.
The bullying continued even after school during our tuition classes. They even created a comic strip to make fun of me! Wow, how persistent were they?
There were a few ways I could respond to the bullying. One option is to believe in what they said and internalise their words into my heart – that I was crippled and useless.
Or I could respond by telling myself a different opinion. With the love and support of my parents, I found confidence in my own identity and chose to not believe what the bullies were saying.
Two years later I transferred to a new school. I thought that I would not meet them again but a leadership camp organised by my school brought one of the bullies back into my life.
The boy somehow decided to be friendly with me. Although I could still remember the words he had uttered, I had to decide if I wanted to move on or hold on to my past. I decided to let bygones be bygones and engaged in a conversation with him.
I realised that pain demands a response. Whether I choose to avoid the pain or overcome it, it was up to me.
Pain doesn’t last forever
The first race I participated in – using my wheelchair – was a 10km run in 2012. Since then, I’ve completed 21km half-marathons, 42km full marathons and a 100km ultramarathon.
While the physical strain involved in completing a marathon is challenging enough, one of the things I dread the most in a marathon are hills.
Overcoming an uphill climb with a wheelchair, 35km into the run while having cramps, was probably one of the hardest physical challenges I’ve experienced.
Of all the hills I’ve pushed myself up from, there was not a single one that kept going up and never went down. I noticed that no matter how steep the uphill may be, it will eventually go down. It reminded me that in life, there is no challenge that lasts forever.
There will be times where we feel that the challenges we’re facing are unsolvable, and that we would never overcome them. Let me assure you that if you persevere long enough, you will eventually overcome any hurdles in life.
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable
Although I’ve been participating in wheelchair marathons for a number of years, I’ve always been training with my body weight and wheelchair.
It was only recently that I started training in a gym when I decided to pursue a goal of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
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The first four weeks of my training at the gym was the toughest for me. I would have one day of training at the gym and be sore for the next five days before I could go again.
It took so long for me to recover because my body wasn’t adjusted to the type and intensity of workout I was going through.
One month passed and the training felt easier. I was able to train every alternate day and feel like I could train again.
Two months passed and I started doing more complicated routines and increased the weights I could carry.
I felt like I got stronger and it was a very satisfying feeling.
After a while I realised that my progress was not as rapid as before and that I was hitting a mental block in my training.
With the guidance of my coach, we switched our training routine and increased the difficulty of workouts. Then, it felt as if I started all over again! I would feel so sore I could not do anything for the next three days!
That’s where I learnt about constantly pushing my limits and not allow myself to hit a plateau in my training.
Our bodies usually go through plateaus as a sign of our remarkable ability to adjust to stress and change.
So a fitness routine that may seem hard to us a few months ago, would feel easier because our bodies have adapted enough to be able to take on the constant stress.
So in order to constantly grow, we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
We should be able to use pain, challenges and discomfort as tools that push us past our plateaus in life so that we can reach new levels – whether it is in business, relationships or health.
Have you ever noticed that because you have gone through challenges that seem so hard for you at that point of time, similar challenges in the future don’t intimidate you as much, or that they somehow feel more manageable?
Pain isn’t always something that we can avoid so long as we are exposed to unexpected circumstances in life.
However, if we are able to perceive and respond to it differently, it makes us not only stronger, but more adaptable to whatever life has to offer. That way we can be the best that we can be and fulfil the potential we have in us.
Daniel is a former Leaderonomer who is currently embarking on a journey to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics in the sport of wheelchair racing. A small contribution goes a long way. Help him realise his dream for the games in Tokyo 2020. To support his crowdfunding efforts, please go here. For any editorial needs, email us at email@example.com.