The Importance of Challenging Yourself at Work (and Being Challenged)

To demonstrate the importance of challenging yourself at work, I have a simple question for you: When you imagine your dream job, what do you think of? 

And more specifically, do you imagine yourself doing something easy, maybe something you’ve done for 10 years or so and know like the back of your hand? Or do you picture yourself doing something different that’s hard, but interesting? Demanding, but stimulating at the same time? Something that keeps you on your toes and allows you to think critically and creatively. 

As someone who has had the first type of job, I definitely crave the second type of job because it’s both interesting and stimulating. The difference between the two jobs comes down to one thing: challenging yourself at work. And if you don’t know how to challenge yourself, well it’s time to rise to the occasion with this post! 

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Importance of Challenging Yourself

Due to an academic advisor’s incorrect advice, I enrolled my freshman year of college in Beginner’s Mandarin Chinese thinking that it was required though I found out midway through the semester that it most certainly was not! 

I could have dropped the class at that point with no effect on my GPA, but I didn’t. Instead, I finished the class strong and then I proceeded to take four more semesters of Mandarin Chinese. Ni hao!

Challenges Lead to Personal Growth

Why did I take extra semesters of Chinese, you may ask. (Or perhaps “Are you crazy?) 

Well, I didn’t realize it until I enrolled in my first Chinese class, but we should all be willing to take on new challenges and looking for new challenges and opportunities.

Why? Because challenges truly bring out the best in us and pave the way for personal growth.

When it came to writing Mandarin Chinese characters, it was difficult to say the least. Learning to speak the language in the correct tones was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And yet, it was one of the classes that I thrived in at university because it forced me to be my best, and I rose to the challenge!

What does it mean to challenge yourself?

To challenge yourself means to not get too comfortable where you are. It’s about pushing yourself to be the best version of yourself, learn new skills, adapt to changing situations, and do things that are…well, hard.

In a roundtable discussion at work, one of the panelists said that all professionals should strive to take positions and roles that force them to think outside the box and that stretch them intellectually and professionally. In fact, he went on to say that if you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re not being challenged enough.

Are you being challenged?

Why do I want to challenge myself?

Challenges come in different shapes and sizes for everyone because all of our “comfort zones” are unique to who we are and where we are in life. But despite how a challenge might look for you or your neighbor, why would either of you want to challenge yourself?

I want to challenge myself because I enjoy the intellectual stimulation of a good challenge. For me, challenges keep things interesting. They keep me on my toes, and push my mind to think in new and creative ways. 

Every year, I write a novel in a month during the annual NaNoWriMo contest (National Novel Writing Month). No matter if you’re a seasoned writer or not a writer at all, I think we can all agree that writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a challenge. And yet, it’s the challenge that pushes me to write more than I do all year. My brain responds to the challenge, too, by coming up with some of the best, creative ideas I’ve ever had.

I also want to challenge myself because I surprise myself every time with how I respond to the challenge and the things I am able to achieve. None of that would have been possible without a little push to get out of my comfort zone.

Why I like challenges at work

While writing a novel in a month and studying Mandarin Chinese for 2 and a half years are great challenges, I also like to have challenges at work. 

Since we spend 40 hours (or more) a week in our office buildings, home offices, classrooms, or elsewhere dedicated to work, I hope not only that those forty hours are productive, but have some challenges as well. While challenges at work may be scary, I like how they break up the mundane, administrative work and that they allow me to flex my creative muscles. 

How to Challenge Yourself at Work 

After a year and some change in corporate and a year as an English Teaching Assistant in Andorra, I’ve come to understand the importance of challenging yourself at work. Even though corporate America and the mountains of Andorra are two opposing experiences and environments, I still crave challenges nonetheless, especially since I’ve benefited from having challenges in both those spaces.

But the importance of challenging yourself is only half the story. The other is knowing how to challenge yourself, which isn’t quite as intuitive as you would hope.

You have to be intentional and purposeful in looking for challenges and new opportunities for professional development and personal growth.

Being Challenged at Work is a Blessing

For me, being challenged at work is a gift and a blessing. During my first few months in my corporate America job, I had the opposite of “being challenged at work.” I had a lot of administrative work and repetitive tasks. Though that work did fit into the grand scheme of my project, I couldn’t see the big picture and found myself getting frustrated and impatient.

During that time, I waited on God for His direction and thankfully, He gave me peace and patience. I had to remind myself that for a young professional in an early career position, I can’t expect to have a corner office on day one.

Still putting those two things into perspective, I strive to be challenged at work. I used the downtime at the beginning of my first assignment to build my skills, network, and learn everything I could about my project. Sometimes being challenged at work means bringing the challenge to yourself.

Related: The Best Career Advice I Ever Got

So, how do you challenge yourself at work?

Sometimes challenges at work come from the nature of the job. Particularly if it’s a position, company, or industry that’s brand new to you, you may be putting yourself in an “uncomfortable” position that’s naturally challenging. If that’s the case, kudos to you! 

You’ve already stretched yourself by applying to a position where you’re already anticipating to grow and learn. This was the case for me when I went to Andorra, knowing that the foreign culture and school environment would be a challenge.

Others of us are not so lucky. When I joined the corporate world as a young professional, I had to think more intentionally about how to challenge myself at work. It may not seem like rocket science, but it’s good to be reminded of how you can challenge yourself at work by doing two things.

1. Accepting the New Challenges at Work that Come Your Way

The first is accepting new challenges at work. When I lived abroad, the program staff told us to say “yes” to everything and ask questions later. Now while I think that advice only works about 80% of the time, it is a good mindset to have when at work.

Careers are no longer linear. Climbing the corporate ladder isn’t the only way to progress in your early career. 

Nowadays, corporate progression can happen by switching departments, changing industries, working on cross functional teams, and taking on new challenges. So even though a new challenge may come your way that isn’t related directly to your role, by accepting the new challenges at work anyway, you open the door for new opportunities. You can develop new skills, gain new knowledge, and maybe even discover a new passion.

Are you willing to take on new challenges at work?

2. Looking for New Challenges and Opportunities

Other times, challenges don’t come knocking on your door. That was the case in Andorra when as a teaching assistant, I wasn’t given a lot of responsibilities and thus was wondering how to challenge myself at work.

The answer, for me, was looking for new challenges and opportunities.

Outside of my school hours, I also took Catalan classes and taught private lessons. Both of these opportunities I sought out in order to grow my skills and to use my existing skills in new, creative ways.

Ironically, some of my fondest memories of being a teaching assistant come from those two challenges because I was pushed to my limits and developed better skills and competencies as a result. These opportunities have shown me the importance of challenging myself at work and the benefits of learning a little bit of Catalan. Bon dia!

How do you find new challenges at work?

So if you’re looking for new challenges and opportunities at work, start by asking your manager or your mentor. Let them know if there is a certain skill or competency you’d like to develop. Chances are they will know of an opportunity or initiative that you can get involved in.

Secondly, let your coworkers know that you are open to taking on more responsibilities and are ready to help. Coming in as a young professional, you’ll be surprised how much experience you can gain from senior professionals just by helping them with their day to day tasks. And chances are, if you impress them, they may even take that responsibility off of their plate and give it to you.

Be Realistic when Challenging Yourself

Before I set you loose on the job with a mindset to hunt down new challenges, here’s a bit of fine print.

You must be selective in the challenges that you tackle.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew as that will only lead to poor performance and disappointment. 

If you take on small challenges at first and then slowly build to the bigger ones, you’ll make sure you have a firm foundation and skillset to help you succeed in the next one. So in the words of NaNoWrio, if you’ve never written a short piece of writing, maybe writing 50,000 words in one month shouldn’t be your first challenge.

Related: Maintaining Work Life Balance

Importance of Challenging Yourself at Work

Earlier in this post, I mentioned that challenges push you to your limits. Well, I’d like to add something to that. Challenging yourself is a way to reach your limits. 

We often sell ourselves short, thinking that we are capable of less, or that we can’t do something simply because we’ve never tried. I’ve turned down many challenges due to uncertainty and fear of failure. To cope with my fear, I stay inside my comfort zone where I know I can always achieve the same, consistent marks and goals.

I say, No more! We are capable of so much more.

That’s why challenging yourself is so important. Let go of fear! You will never know your limits until you reach them. 

How do you challenge yourself as a writer and blogger?

I wrote earlier about National Novel Writing Month and challenging myself to write 50,000 words in 30 days. But aside from staggering word counts, I also challenge myself as a writer by writing in new genres, trying to write in different points of view, and exploring new types of writing, like essays, short stories, flash fiction, and articles.

This blog, Kara J Lovett Co., is in itself a challenge for me.

I started it with an idea to write for Christians Abroad and an empty page. I didn’t know anything about Blog Avatars, Affiliate Marketing, or Search Engine Optimization (SEO) until I took these helpful courses by Kingdom Bloggers Academy

Now I’m writing about Navigating the Adulting Struggle and have a self-hosted site that you somehow found. And I am glad you did so I could share with you the importance of challenging yourself and encourage you not to let fear keep you from reaching your limits.

What will you do to challenge yourself today?

Leave me a comment below!

Don’t miss this! More posts about Working and the Young Professional Lifestyle:

Featured Images: StockSnap–894430 of Pixabay, created with Canva (1 and 2).

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