In praise of doing difficult things


Here are some thoughts I had during an exam on financial analysis recently:

  • Wow, I thought this would be hard and scary; it has exceeded my expectations
  • I am intelligent and diligent and yet… I legit don’t know a bunch of these answers
  • Yep, dividend imputation is just as baffling today as it was yesterday
  • Why would I willingly put myself through this? I don’t even want to be an analyst!
  • Well there goes my distinction average

That’s a small sample. I had more than two hours to think all these things, while valiantly tapping away at my $3 calculator from The Reject Shop (a last-minute purchase; what sort of finance student doesn’t even have a proper calculator?).

As soon as the exam was done, I tried to wipe the experience from my memory (unsuccessfully – I’m still ruminating over one question on profit margins versus market share).

What stayed with me, however, was the sense of having done something very difficult. And how easy it is to avoid doing anything like that.

Of course, I work hard. I train hard on my powerlifting. I made a really hard life decision in recent years. But this was a different type of hard: confronting something I’m genuinely bad at.

Put simply, I don’t get numbers. They swim before my eyes. I zone out when I look at a spreadsheet. I was nearly in tears trying to understand franking credits. I am simply not very good at it.

I understand financial concepts. I dig asset allocation, diversification and the capital stack. I simply can’t read a spreadsheet or solve an equation.

As an adult, when you aren’t very good at something, it can be easy to avoid it. How many people are liberated from school, vowing to never again ‘solve for X’; to explain how Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter to dramatic effect; or to apply Avogadro’s number?

And you can go on like that for many years.  Coasting; staying comfy and competent.

And then you decide to do something you aren’t good at. Maybe you run a marathon (or in my case, kill yourself in a 5km fun run). You go back and study something really challenging. You learn a musical instrument that your fingers don’t want to co-operate with. Or you hone your darts skills to a point where you don’t have to do a nuddy run.*

Everyone has their own list of things to overcome, and their own reasons for trying. The sense of achievement when you finally get it.  The feeling of being alive, in the midst of the discomfort zone. The desire to rewrite the story of who you are and what you can do.

So, before I know the result of my exam, I’d like to make a toast to doing difficult things. To failing at them sometimes. To nailing them other times. And to recognising the value in doing them at all.

*If you don’t make it onto the board before someone else wins, that’s the punishment. Not that I’ve done it…

photo credit: CASIO fx7000g via photopin (license)

  1. Damn, I had to go and google Avogadro’s number because I’ve never heard of it. You got me out of my comfort zone, anyway.

  2. Love this! Here’s to not staying in our comfort zones 🙂

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