When That Challenge Keeps Coming Back

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Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. —Pema Chödrön

I noticed a strong pattern of themes emerge while looking back through my notes from my sessions with my coach. While we covered a lot of ground in those two years, if we were to look at the basic underlying issue in each session there would appear to be a lot of repetition.

Now, it might be easy to assume that challenges we’d worked on would come up again because I wasn’t following through or because our sessions weren’t effective. That just isn’t true.

Working with a coach is an investment in myself and I tried to make the most of it. I learned so much in each session and the changes in my life are significant. Nevertheless, there were times when I’d come to a session discouraged because I was struggling with an issue I thought I’d already resolved.

The thing is, making changes in our lives is rarely as simple as flipping a switch. Asking the right questions or following the right strategy won’t instantly fix us. It can, however, start us on a path of change and growth.

If any challenge you thought you’d dealt with is coming up again, don’t despair that things can ever be different. Don’t automatically assume you’re doing something wrong. All it really means is that there are more opportunities to practice. There is more for you to learn.

Even if you’re still struggling more than you hoped to be at this point, it doesn’t mean you’ve made no progress. Look away from the place you long to reach and take a glance back to where you used to be. Take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve already come.

I’ve heard the journey of personal growth compared to winding up the side of a mountain. The mountain is too steep to climb straight to the top, so the path we take spirals around and around. It can seem like we keep circling around to the same place again and again, but if we look carefully we notice that each time we’re a little further up the mountain.

We may keep bumping up against the same issues repeatedly, but each time we’re in a slightly different place. We take with us all the lessons we learned from each previous experience—from what helps to what we’ve discovered we really don’t want. We have the benefit of the growth we’ve experienced other areas of our lives.

It’s easy to get discouraged when we don’t see the progress we’ve expected. But what if this is actually an invitation? Maybe it’s an invitation to keep practicing—to apply the lessons we’re learning until they become habit. Maybe it’s actually an opportunity to dig deeper—a sign that we’re ready to uncover the issue behind our current challenge.

Regardless, it’s totally normal to have past struggles come up again. Many of them will continue to be with us throughout our lives. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing anything wrong. It simply means we haven’t yet learned all there is to know…and that’s the journey of a lifetime.

Now I’m not saying it’s not ok to feel frustrated or angry or anything like that. Growth is rarely comfortable. We don’t have to greet everything that comes our way with an eager smile.

Show yourself compassion. Acknowledge when life feels hard. Being kind to yourself in your discouragement is going to be way more helpful than being critical of yourself.

Take a look around. See where you’ve been and where you want to go. Find the next tiny step on your journey.

I’d love to know…what challenges keep coming back for you? I have a few, but one of the big ones is connecting with people and building community. How do you feel when an issue you thought you’d resolved shows up again? What helps you keep moving up the mountain?