There is a stand of mature white oaks and red oaks near my home, all growing tall and straight. They grow like that because they are competing with each other for the sunlight, reaching to get through the shade of the other trees. It is an obstacle they must overcome, or they won’t survive. Some don’t. But, interestingly, the very same acorn that produces that tall and straight tree, if it had taken root alone in an open field with no other trees around it, would not grow tall and straight. It would grow shorter and rounder, spreading out to gather as much sun as it can. It adapts to its environment and makes itself better.
When growing close together, the trees are in competition for the sunlight, and they must push and reach to get to the light. Somehow they have that capacity to strive and try. Somehow, they are able to change themselves, physically, to adapt to their obstacle. However it happens, they are able to strive and make themselves better, and Nature, as a whole, is better off because of it. It’s happening outside our doors and windows all the time, and we are a part of it, too. All of Nature is striving and reaching right now, bettering itself. Trees reaching for sunlight, vines reaching for a stronghold, animals pushing through adversity, grass creeping into the flower beds, callouses forming to protect against the struggle. Life, facing constant obstacles and opportunities, grows, and betters itself through its struggles. That’s pretty powerful, pretty creative, pretty miraculous.
What can I learn from that? If Nature betters itself, and if I am a part of Nature, then it makes sense that I should strive to better myself, too. I should reach for more than I think I can. I should stretch just a little further than I did before. I should strive to improve myself. I should embrace the struggle of any obstacle, knowing that I grow better and stronger because of it.
Season 7 of American Ninja Warrior is coming up next summer, and I’ve just finished submitting my application. I love what it represents: Competition, relationships, fitness, the “bettering” of ourselves. I could’ve given up, sat on the couch and resigned myself to being too old anymore, and no one would’ve blamed me. Or I could try to do something more. I could reach, strive, push, and better myself.
Whatever your obstacle, do what Nature does. The solution is to push, to strive, to reach and to try, to dig deep, to hang on just a little bit more, even though it’s a struggle, and know that you will grow stronger from that struggle. Find something about yourself you can improve, and work toward it. Grow, learn, teach yourself something new. Better yourself!