The Eye magazine (Huddersfield) February 2013 – Why do we set ourselves challenges?

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Why do we take on the impossible? Is it about being first – the challenge and the competition? Or is it a personal drive to test ourselves: to push ourselves beyond the normal levels of physical or mental endurance?

Speaking about the success of our Olympic athletes at London 2012, a TV commentator recently asked why any child wouldn’t be inspired to follow in their footsteps. Now you don’t need to know much about athletics to know that competing at international levels requires sacrificing any kind of normal life. How many teenagers are prepared to get up early every day to train before school, spend weekends travelling to competitions and miss most of the parties and nights out that their friends enjoy? We may be inspired by others’ achievements but that doesn’t necessarily mean we also expect to win a gold medal, trek to the North Pole or win the Nobel Peace Prize.

A famous writer asked to give advice to budding writers once said words to the effect: stop complaining, no one’s forcing you to write. You could say the same thing to anyone struggling to make it in a creative environment. If we are being forced, it’s by ourselves. Aspiring writers, artists, singers, dancers, actors – all are driven to create or perform, in the same way that our sporting superstars are driven to win.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of achievement is what happens next. Once you’ve got your gold medal, had your number one single, written a bestselling book, where do you go from there? How many achievers are happy to rest on their laurels? In some cases, they’ll know when they’ve reached the pinnacle of their success, for example a gold medallist who is too old to compete in the next Olympics. On the other hand, a bestselling author will probably continue to write in the hope of achieving ever more success with their next book. In some ways, success is only the start.

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