Steve Baxter's Blog

4 Seasons - Doing something challenging

About comfort zones, doing something challenging and how I found myself on stage and reading poetry...
Dauntsey Park House

The other day I was accompanying my wife to a music festival. It was a family affair, in a beautiful stately home where husbands, wives and children were invited to accompany the musicians and to make a weekend of music-making an enjoyable break as well as work. I was having a wonderful time, wandering the grounds, reading, listening to rehearsals and chatting with our genial host, Giovanni.

During the evening meal the musicians were discussing the piece they had just been been rehearsing, Vivaldi's The Four Seasons; Le quattro stagioni. The conversation focussed on a series of poems written, possibly by Vivaldi himself, to illustrate the music. What a good idea, it was suggested, to read each of these poems to the audicence before each season, in their original Italian and then in the English translation.

Our host Giovanni was promptly selected to read the Italian, they just needed someone to ready the English translation - at which point I realised that they were all, prompted by my wife, looking at me. My wife, used to stages the world over and having given her debut concert aged 9, asked me if I'd like to do it. Not just read it, but perform it, professionally, during a public concert. My comfort zone just exploded. I put down my book on philosophy and looked at her. Knowing her as I do, I suspect even she was not sure of my answer, but after a second or two I found myself suprising both her and myself by saying – ‘Okay!’

Four Seasons Script

So I found myself in a packed church, facing my Italian counterpart, Giovanni across the aisle and echoing his Italian reading of four poems in English translation – one before each of Vivaldi’s Seasons, which were then played by musicians who do this for a living every day. Giovanni’s mellifluous and effortless Italian held the church breathless as he spoke and I took a second to face up to him, thinking how clunky the English would sound unless I really spoke with expression and meaning – and then I did. I read poetry. In public. Having never even read any poetry before in my life. Personal challenge achieved.

Personal Challenges

When working with clients I often encourage them to do things like this - set themselves or accept personal challenges. I want them to see the benefits of making and working towards challenging goals. I also want them to look beyond the achievement of any such individual goal and consider the wider benefits of continuously setting challenges for oneself.

I explain and propose that they adopt the following philosophy, attitude and lifestyle choice:

Adopt a policy of deliberately choosing to face challenges you perceive as difficult. Do not seek to avoid or mitigate but seek to learn the ideas, practice and employ the skills needed and become the kind of person capable of meeting those challenges.

Expect it to take time and effort. Expect to experience set-backs and overcome these with persistence. Be clear on your goal yet flexible on your approach. Celebrate your success and pick your next challenge.

The nature of these challenges is of course very personal and varies enormously. For one person it could be to train and complete a marathon, for another it could be to walk the length of their road without a stick. For a musician it could be performing solo at the Wigmore Hall; for another, playing at their school concert.

The underlying idea is not just about meeting an individual challenge but creating a mindset that embraces challenge as a way of life. A mindset of self-challenge that develops the skills, tenacity and self-belief that are an essential part of achieving our goals and also dealing with 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' - Life!

The Comfy Alternative

Chilled Out

The alternative gives the illusion of safety. Don't challenge yourselves, stay comfortable, safe. Eat the same foods, at the same restaurants. Go on holiday to the same place each year. Don't try new sports, new pastimes, new ideas. Take the easy way. Stay safe from harm, challenge, possible struggle or failure. Don’t trust, don’t believe. We are creatures of habit and we feel so comfortable just being our habitual selves.

But I would argue that this comfortable existence is misleading, because occasionally life is not comfortable. Life can throw the unexpected and unpleasant at us and challenge us to cope. What kind of person do you think will cope best with these things? The person used to variety and challenge, doing and mastering new things; or the person who does not and tries to stay safe?

The habit of challenging ourselves requires us to learn and hone important life skills. Skills to do with being flexible, of anticipating problems, of knowing ourselves and our ability to adapt and overcome.

This, for me, is at the heart of true self-confidence. The confidence that we can cope when things go awry and get tough. Confidence based on concrete evidence of our track record of facing challenges and coping.

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