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The Challenger

Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” was blasting over the speakers. Mentally, she was thinking, “I hate him and I’m never coming back to this place again.” Twelve songs and an hour later, she said to herself, “I love him and he’s amazing. I guess we can make up now.”

He challenged her. He pushed her outside of her comfort zone. He caused her pain. Not a bad pain. The kind of pain that forces you to dig deep within yourself to find strength that you didn’t know you had. He was the kind of person she needed in her life. Not HIM specifically. But the kind of person he represented. He was a challenger. He was a person who doesn’t allow things stay the way they are. A person who strives for something greater. A person who pushes others to be better.

SHE was my sister Kathleen. HE was our spin instructor Bob. And the lesson for the day was to seek out people who challenge you. Mentally and physically. As the lyrics from the T.S. “1989” album posed the question: When it’s over will the high be worth the pain?... I knew the answer. It’s the answer that comes with every positive challenger who enters your life. You must welcome them in. Listen to them. Observe them. Learn from them. And soak up everything that they have to teach you.

The challenge for my sister, and anyone who was riding a bike in the cycle studio that day, was obviously physical. The workout was exhausting. It was the kind of cardio that makes you want to quit because you’re not sure if your legs have the ability to last one more second while they speed round and round like a full-speed propellor. Plus, Bob found a way to use the handle bars as a bench press while he led us into nearly 300 pushups while racing in place to Lincoln Park and George Michael (an interesting music combination, but it worked). At some point during the ride, Bob told us that he would pour water on our heads if he didn’t think that we were working hard enough. This worried me for two reasons. One, I knew I was cheating a little bit on the bike’s resistance knob and I feared that Bob had psychic powers and would know I was only slightly dying, not fully dying. Reason number two, and maybe more concerning, I was sweating so much I didn’t want to lose a drop of my water bottle by having it poured on my already drenched head. I wondered if others in the room thought the same thing. But we all kept pedaling away. Breathing heavy. And dripping with sweat. Thankfully, no one ever was ever a victim of Bob’s “dunk tank.” Honestly, I think he was just kidding. But I didn’t want to be the one to call his bluff. He was a challenger. And the room was filled with people who were willing to take on his challenge. Like my sister, I was mentally cursing him. But after the hour’s challenge, I was thankful that he pushed me. I walked out of the building stronger and better than when I entered it that morning.

I’ve always been drawn to people who challenge me. Most of my strongest relationships come from people who challenge me mentally and physically. I find depth of character appealing. And I like people who make me wiser and bring substance to my life. My truest friends don’t always tell me what I want to hear. Nor do they debate me to the point of annoyance. But rather, we have positive conversations about growth, faith, and achieving our goals. And while I may not be the model for “happily ever after” yet, my strongest romantic relationships have been built with men who help me see life from a different perspective while still enjoying our commonalities. This could be something as simple as taking me out on the water for a day of fishing when the only thing I’m used to catching on a boat is a tan. Or something more important, like suggesting that I be the one to apologize after a bitter quarrel with a sibling simply because it’s the right thing to do (no matter who was at fault). So whether it’s a trainer who challenges me physically; or a friend who challenges me mentally; or a partner who challenges me on all levels, I always like a challenger in my life.

Seek out those who challenge you. They will bring wisdom, depth, and substance to your life. They will inspire you to be a better version of yourself. They will motivate you to take your goals to a new and higher level. They will help you empower yourself. They will teach you things you didn’t know were possible. They will bring out the best in you. And the good challenger will always be a positive force in your life.

Some challengers will stay forever. And some are only meant to be there for a moment in time. They are a gift to you. Accept them into your life with gratitude. And maybe one day, they will challenge you to be a challenger.

Andrea Vecchio

About the author

Andrea Vecchio (@andreavecchio) is the founder and author of Live Your Playlist, creator and host of the digital series Driving Cleveland, motivational speaker, life strategist, and Emmy-nominated television host.

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