How a Reading Challenge Led to a Lifestyle Change…
Somethings we know, but don’t know. You know?
Like we all know we could do more if we spend the first hour of our day effectively. But we STILL roll-over and check our phone for notifications first thing in the morning. Knowledge doesn’t always render one better action. And as I’m known to say, knowing your problem is the first step, but still, it’s only one of many, many more. Yeah, not such a motivational statement so perhaps you shouldn’t quote me.
Well, one of those lessons we all know is the point of this piece…
We all know consistency and perseverance yields fruits. There’s not a single motivational speaker, preacher, teacher and parent who hasn’t hammered “just keep going” into their speech, book, sermon- you name it. And still, this knowledge floats like a lily-pod on the rivers of our thoughts. Just there, acknowledged but not really seen, nor wholeheartedly believed for the fact that it is. After all, is it is to ‘just keep going’ and find out if that works?
Not so recently I took up a challenge that made me really LEARN this lesson and it led to several impressive lifestyle changes which have so far impacted my health, Christian journey and general outlook on life. In 2015 I was fortunate to be one of 25 young African women to be awarded a MILEAD fellowship. This marked my entry into an international sisterhood I appreciate more and more each year. Your network is indeed your net worth people. Well, late in 2017, an opportunity was shared for members of this network. It was a 25 week reading challenge called the KK Reading Prize. Those interested in joining were called upon to register; we would need to read a suitable book a week for 25 weeks, write short book reports stating the gist, how it impacted us personally and professionally, what we liked and disliked and a quote which stood out. For our efforts, we stood a chance to win 1000USD. I swear I read that email twice and responded with interest faster than I’ve replied to messages from a crush. If you know me, you know I like reading. Love books! Advocate for reading and consider gifts of books as equal to gifts of money. So, an opportunity to get paid for reading obviously sounded like God saying, here you go, have a gift. Well, not quite.
The contest was to officially begin with our submitting our first book reports on Monday the 3rd of October 2017. Unfortunately, I found myself facing the unexpected problem of internet shutdown as the Anglophone crisis peaked on the 1st of October 2017 with declarations of ‘independence’. I sent SMS to other MILEAD fellows and explained my situation. I eventually sent in that first submission as soon as I could travel to Douala in the neighboring region (Internet Cameroon). That internet ban was shorter, we received access within a week. I should have been on track after that, submitting my reports regularly. Life soon proved that it wasn’t that simple. I found that even with something you love doing, you need to program it in. I found that few good things happen by chance and I learned a lot about myself over the 25 weeks of thereading challenge.
First off, as per the contest rules, we were to read ’empowering books for professional and personal development’. This forced me out of my ‘comfort zone’ of pop and literary fiction. I struggled slightly but eventually found adequate books. Still, reading them and writing on them took a lot more effort than I had envisaged. I came to the realization that though I could read pop-fiction on the road, or anywhere for that matter, this wasn’t the case for heavier literature. Reading for me has always been about escape. I needed books and used them to get away from reality. With the literature prescribed by the contest, however, this was not possible. I had to confront myself through the literature. Confront myself and see that I was my own stumbling block, my own greatest problem. While reading the likes of I am Malala and The Diary of Anne Frank was inspiring it also made me feel like a failure and shamed me for what were current complaints. So during the challenge I always found myself reading two books, I would have my favorite Nora Roberts’ or Lauri Kubuitsile book on my bedside cupboard and the ‘required’ suitable book for the challenge would sit on my work-table. Because that was ‘work’. I struggled to finish the self-help and suitable books most weeks- even though I’d read Harry Potter (book seven) in less than 10 hours. The experience showed me how dire my escapist tendency was. This wasn’t about just a contest any longer, was I escaping, what else was it affecting aside from a challenge?
Upon reflection? A great deal. I noticed how I escape reading certain books in the Bible altogether, How meditating for long is difficult for me. It forces me to think on issues I’d rather avoid so a brief prayer and song should do. I noticed how in escaping the pain my diary entries were sporadic, I would have to write later, struggling to find words to express feelings which we now stale for being shut away till I forced myself to open the box I’d locked them in. That is the greatest difficulties I face in writing.
Over those weeks I faced another challenge, time management.
Like most people, I’m a horrible procrastinator. Still, I’ve been praised for my discipline and goal-mindedness so often I believed the voices of others rather than taking an honest look at myself. I mean, yes as compared to several friends, I have more discipline. But then compared with others I know, I’m undisciplined and do bare-minimum at last-minute. Like Cameroon choosing to belong to CEMAC rather than ECOWAS, I had been placing myself in the group where I looked better off. When those easily impressed people said remarked on my ‘great discipline’ I should have responded like Whitney: “Some. Times”
Interviewer: So you’re a tough cookie? Whitney: Sometimes I: All the time. Whitney: Sometimes. That means SOME. TIMES
Well as the weeks progressed I found myself amazed at how the challenge actually became challenging simply because I couldn’t discipline myself. I would procrastinate the reading and report-writing thinking “oh it’s not a big deal so I can do it over the weekend and meet Monday deadline”. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I struggled with the ‘suitable’ reading, now with procrastinating the writing of a 1-3 page report my lack of discipline made me miss more deadlines than I’d care to admit. Again, this lesson spearheaded the consciousness of the effects of my procrastination and indiscipline in other areas. How often had I failed to submit for a contest because of my last-minute nature? Or put off reading my daily devotional and forgot about it altogether? And don’t get me started on miscalculating how much time I have to get somewhere
Still, there was one last lesson, a good lesson, to be learned through those weeks. One I hope helps us all in our personal growth and Christian journies. See, two traits saved me; I’m stubborn (whether stubborn hope or pride, I’ll not say) and I am easily shamed. I couldn’t fathom being defeated by this challenge. I mean, how could I drop out as some others had? I had been the first person to respond with interest and had literally called attention to myself with my eagerness. How shameful would I look to quit? By quitting I would be admitting that reading a book a week was beyond me as I was about to start a Ph.D.? Like really? Upon considering it, like I had the other realizations, quitting would mean lots more. It would mean I found no need to address a problem I knew I had. To quit would mean I was okay with the fact of my escaping and procrastinating and poor management of time that made it difficult to do all I had to efficiently. Habits which affected my ability to meet health goals, made it difficult to write as I would like to, act on several ideas and ambitions which I was inspired to pursue, and generally inhibited my being a better woman and Christian. To quit was to say I was okay with not doing what I know I could do, being all I could be if I was more intentional. That was just shameful.
By the ninth week of the challenge, and after submitting late (sometimes on Tuesday, others on Wednesday) I determined that I was too stubborn to quit so shamefully. And determined that I with this challenge and in other areas of my life, I would stop quitting. I would stop escaping (or if I must, I would but return to what I had fled from and face it). Things didn’t change overnight with my decisive stubbornness; I still submitted late for several other weeks. But I submitted. I was determined to submit even after missing a week, I submitted two reports on the same day. The challenge now represented a commitment to bettering myself and choosing to do what I know I have to do even if I didn’t like it. The challenge was now a lesson on deciding who I wanted to be identified as, a quitter or?
And with that I began to look at other “challenges” I had previously given up on or failed at for being unintentional; challenges like maintaining a healthy diet/lifestyle, developing a better relationship with God and acting on divine inspiration, addressing structural problems within my organization, the challenges in personal relationships and more. The lessons of the KK Reading Prize applied to all these; success at anything- even something as innate to me as reading- would only result from deliberate choices. I had to be more intentional and ‘just keep going’. Just as the plethora of self-help material, preachers, teachers, and parents claimed.
I wonder though, perhaps the ‘just keep going’ message would have been better received, acknowledged and believed if we had been told:
“We’re all practicing at this. We’re all struggling, and mostly winging it. We’re all Christians in training, all flawed men, and women. We’re all inadequate teachers and ignorant students in this life. So just keep going, and cheer when you beat your own ‘best score’.”
Perhaps more people would get it, and understand that we only fail, be it at our health goal professional ambition or in loving someone when we summarily stop trying.
The twenty-five weeks came to a close by mid-March this year. I submitted all book reports though not on time. I persevered and forced myself to ‘woman up’. Over those weeks, I made the decision to improve myself in several ways and decided to say ‘yes’ to things I formerly reject in fear or dropped the ball on as a result of inconsistency (shoutout to Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes). The lessons of the challenge have definitely stuck with me. I am still far from achieving all the improvements I have renewed commitment to, but I now face my fears as much as possible. I now face myself, my own biggest obstacle. I now call myself out on the habits I must change. And I am now more intentional, recognizing that I must make choices several times a day, choices that would either lead me to the woman I want to be known as or to someone I wouldn’t want to be known as. Knowing how easily shamed I am, I create my own shaming (sad I know lol). Thinking of my (future) children, I ask myself: “Now is this how [insert child’s name] would like to see/know her mama?” Or “Is this the kind of woman, Christian, mother you’d like to be remembered for?” No? Then do what you have to.
I must admit, this shaming culture is sad, and likely mentally unhealthy. It does get me moving- eventually. Guilt is a powerful incentive yo!
Still, these lessons need to constant repeating. Unlike bad habits, good ones don’t stick easily. We must actively pursue what we desire, choosing to take little steps towards it repeatedly, knowing we will fail- as I regularly do- but determining to make the right choice next time. Over and over again. And again. It is like Michelle Obama was quoted for saying recently: “You have to start practicing who you want to be… Practice who you want to be every day”.
So today I ask you, are you choosing to be your ideal version of yourself? If not why?
Are you weighed down thinking you’re not a good enough person or Christian? Don’t be dismayed, we’re all drivers-in-training on this journey. Just keep practicing at who you want to be with each choice. Be deliberate.