a challenge or a lesson?
Last weekend I played in a gaming event and got rolled over by a professional player. Repeatedly. It frustrated me that, in spite of knowing the difference in our skill levels, I was discouraged. I’m pretty sure it drained my dopamine response to the game completely because afterwards, I realized was that I’ve been ignoring a feeling at the back of my mind since I started playing it regularly a year and a half ago.
I love the game, I love the lore and universe, I love watching pro play. But it is true that I’ve been struggling a lot more with symptoms of ADHD since I started playing it. My “right mind” has been able to observe the dopamine-hacking methods the game creators use to keep me coming back, while my dopamine-hungry (aka wrong) mind has sucked it all up and let it drain me dry. Getting my ass pelted was just what I needed. I don’t need to come back stronger, I need to stop.
The popular position regarding facing adversity is that we are supposed to face challenges and overcome them, growing stronger and slaying our demons. I’m not here to invalidate that in any way, but I’d like to offer an alternative: adversity can also be a lesson that we move on from by learning. No demon slayers, no rising above. Simply humbling and letting ourself be taught by life. In whatever way it comes to us. We receive so many messages telling us to “toughen up”, “winners don’t quit”, etc, and it’s so easy to fall into this trap of binary thinking: either I’m a quitter or winner. It is not my place to make rules about which situations best suit each approach, I’m merely offering us all the possibility – and seizing it for myself with both hands.
I like to believe that adaptation is one of the strongest survival skills we have. The ability to go with the flow, whether that’s switching up the recipe for dinner because we’re out of an ingredient, taking up a new hobby during the pandemic, or wearing a mask in public spaces, is how we grow in spite of circumstances not going our way. We have all had to adapt or evolve in 2020, even in subtle ways, and I’ll go out on a limb to predict that learning when to fight against the current or let it wash over you may become one of the defining takeaways of this year.
There’s something to be said about allowing circumstances to shape us rather than forcing ourselves through them. Being a square peg in a round hole is exhausting and painful, and often it can feel like our options are to either soften our own edges to squeeze into the shape of the hole or try to chip away at the places we don’t fit in – but maybe, perhaps, we could learn that the round hole is not a place for a square peg and look for a hole that suits us better. It’s gonna be different in different situations, as with everything in life, but I want to take this moment to stress that it’s ok to walk away and it’s ok to for a lesson to be our only outcome.
It’s not an easy course, not at all, as everything we’ve ever been taught to believe about ourselves gets forged in its fire. More so if our identities are bound to being a fighter or being tough (hello, fam, I see you!), but know this:
You are allowed to pick your battles. You, and only you, decide what you want to face head on and what is not worth your blood, sweat, and tears. So walk away if you want to, hold your head high because no one else gets to make that call for you, but don’t leave empty-handed: take the lesson and wisdom from the experience to help prepare you for all the battles to come.