It's the Challenge that Makes It Worthwhile

On a recent trip to Banff National Park in Canada, my friends and I took a voyage to Moraine Lake, and this is what we found:

Moraine Lake: 1/250 sec. f/8 18mm ISO 100

Now, that's a pretty good view. It was arguably a better view than Lake Louise, which we saw shortly before:

Lake Louise: 1/250 sec. f/8 18mm ISO 100

Lake Louise is the bigger and more famous lake in Banff, and it has a massive glacier behind it that adds to the "awe-factor". But, because Lake Louise is the larger and more famous lake, it also gets a whole lot more people. In the picture above, if I tilted the camera just a little bit to the left, you'd see a crowd of about 100 tourists all snapping pictures, which kinda ruins the "natural" vibe of the lake.

Because Moraine Lake was a bit farther out of the way and a bit less famous (and also not next to several hotels) it was less crowded. Couple that with the fact that you have to climb a short little rock pile to get the picture I got at the top, and the "scenic experience" of Moraine Lake was quite a bit more pleasant than Lake Louise.

Even so, that view of Moraine Lake, while breathtaking, still left us with something to be desired. All we had to do to see that view was get on a shuttle bus, get dropped off at the lake, and do about a 5 minute climb up stairs. It's a great view, but once you're at the top, you get that feeling of "okay, now what?"

It's much like the Grand Canyon. All you have to do is park your car, walk two minutes, and you're there! It's a breathtaking view, but the effect wears off pretty quickly. The problem with the Grand Canyon is that you don't really have to do much in order to get the view (aside from driving several hours through the Arizona plains). There's no struggle, there's no challenge, it's just "hey, here ya go, take some pictures, have a great day!"

When something is handed to you, it doesn't feel as valuable. 

After appreciating the scenic view at Moraine Lake, my friends and I embarked on a hike up one of the surrounding mountains. The hike was pretty brutal at first, all uphill, not a ton of scenery (other than the beautiful evergreen trees, which smell magnificent), and it was pretty hot. We fairly quickly got drenched in sweat and had to take a few rest stops to catch our breath.

It got a little grim after we had exerted quite a bit of effort. The top didn't seem to be anywhere in sight, and people on the way down greeted us with grave looks and uncertainty about how "worth it" the hike was. But we pressed on, and to our relief we arrived at a plateau. A few hundred yards later the trail opened up and revealed a magnificent view of Moraine Lake and some incredible mountains with snow. As we continued, the view changed, the lake vanished, and even more breathtaking mountains emerged.

We eventually arrived at a point where we decided to stop and have "lunch", which consisted of beef jerky, trail mix, and granola bars. These foods, while good at any time, are particularly satisfying after you've been hiking for hours. Same thing with water, water never tastes better than when you're incredibly thirsty from having lost a decent portion of your body weight in sweat. And the view...the view was spectacular. Some of the biggest mountains we had ever seen along with a fairly desolate landscape, the kind that only the hardiest mountain goats could survive in. It was cool, for the first time on the hike we were alone, the only people in sight (for a little while, anyway). There was no stir of civilization, it was just us and nature.

That moment of solitude while we enjoyed our lunch was an incredible moment. What made it incredible was that we had earned it, we had climbed the mountain, we had endured heat, cold, tired legs, and sore feet. It wasn't exactly Everest, but it was a solid hike, and just the right amount of effort for 3 guys who spend most of our days shining a chair with our ass.

View at the end. 1/250 sec, f/10 18mm ISO 100

When I was in college, times were often tough, as the weight of the workload could be a lot to bear. Whenever me or my roommate would start complaining about our classes, we would just say to each other "it wouldn't be fun if it was easy."

The strange thing about people (and men in particular) is that we need struggle, we need a challenge, we need a dragon to slay...but at the same time we don't want to. I'll be the first to admit that I am an incredibly lazy person. I do my best to look for a way out of any struggle. This causes me to at times get in a rut with my life, where things are too easy, where I don't exert myself in the slightest, and guess what, it makes me depressed.

The problem with excessive laziness is that it is a positive feedback loop, you get in the habit of not doing anything, and it just makes you want to keep not doing anything. The longer you go without struggle (physical or mental), the weaker you get, and the less inclined you are to seek out a challenge.

In order to break out of this rut, you just have to force yourself to do something. It doesn't have to be anything extreme (and probably shouldn't be), but it should be something that breaks you out of your chains of domesticity. Don't do it because you want to, because if you do it for that then you'll stop doing it as soon as it stops being fun and exciting. Do it because you have to, like your life depends on it (and, it kind of does). Take on projects at work that you're not sure if you can handle, lift some heavy weights, take a hike, pick up a new sport, learn a new skill, take a cold shower, just do anything that makes you uncomfortable.

Living in a first-world country is great, but with it comes the danger of excessive luxury. As I talked about in Why You Should Pity Those Who Are Born Rich, the dangers of excessive luxury are that you reset your expectations for what is "normal", and fewer and fewer things can give you pleasure. Luxury is akin to a drug, and once you're addicted it can be hard to break away.

But life contains so much for those who choose to reject comfort (every now and then, of course...constantly subjecting yourself to stress can lead to problems as well). You won't know how good water can taste until you're in the middle of nowhere and have lost 2 lbs in sweat. Air conditioning feels like a glacial blast after you've been in 100 degree heat for hours. You find out how good a warm shower can feel after you've been hiking in the cold all day. A comfortable mattress becomes a heavenly cloud after you've gotten so tired that you can barely tell who you are.

It's these little luxuries that we take for granted because we utilize them so often, but every now and then we need to remind ourselves that we are lucky for all that we have. Others may have more than you, but if you have a roof over your head, indoor plumbing, and electricity, then you are doing pretty well.

It's not easy to reject luxury in favor of struggle, but there is far more danger in never having to struggle...

Go forth and embrace the misery, because when it's all over you'll discover a sense of satisfaction that you didn't know you needed.


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