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5 Ways To Challenge Yourself To Create New Opportunities In Your Life And Work

Written by: Joanna Stokes, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Challenging yourself is a brilliant way to create opportunities. And I don’t mean you have to turn into Wim Hof and throw yourself into extreme situations. In this article, I share how some of my challenges have created new opportunities for me, and I give you five ways to challenge yourself in the second half of 2022.

“The only way to grow is to challenge yourself.” Ashley Tisdale

The Oxford Dictionary definition of growth is the process of developing physically, mentally, or spiritually. As such it is very personal. For me, it means challenging my strengths, my beliefs, broadening my experiences and stepping into arenas that I wouldn’t normally venture into.

I set myself challenges every year as part of my goal-setting process. The two go hand in hand. My challenges can be small or large, it all depends on where I am in my life and where I want to be.

The nerve-wracking challenge

9 years ago, I carried out my first Ofsted inspection. Raining to be an Ofsted Inspector was a challenge I set myself which stands out for so many reasons. This is the short story of my first inspection and all its challenges.

It didn’t start off well ‒ I left my suit jacket on the back of my bedroom door; 70 miles away!

The first morning, my hairdryer blew up, fused all the electrics in the hotel bedroom and I had to move rooms with wet hair, whilst time ran away with me.

I worked like a trojan trying to remember everything we were taught in training.

What you could do, what you couldn’t do. Watching what I said and did all day.

On my first evening, I drove around a town I didn’t know, trying to find somewhere to buy food that I could eat cold in my bedroom whilst writing up evidence sheets.

I bought a salad; realised when I got to my hotel room, I didn’t have any cutlery.

I was heading for a meltdown.

I am normally an ultra-organised, collected person who was unravelling by the hour.

I worked 12-hour days, frantically writing and re-writing my evidence forms to perfection.

I spent all week chasing my tail, being just in time for everything, and despaired at my lack of time management.

My stomach was in a permanent knot, my head ached from concentration.

At the end of the four days, I drove out of the college gates and breathed a huge sigh of relief driving home in complete silence.

I felt a huge sense of achievement knowing it could never be that bad again!

I knew I had learnt more about myself that week than I had in years, and it was the best CPD I had completed.

I felt a great privilege at being part of the inspection team, working alongside the college team which I had such a lot of respect for.

I carried on being an inspector for 5 years and never stopped learning.

My first inspection was a nightmare for me, but the challenge taught me so much, and having the Ofsted badge opened doors for me when I became self-employed and helped me gain work.

What does a challenge give us?

There is research that shows mentally challenging ourselves helps reduce anxiety and depression. From a personal perspective, I find challenging myself builds my confidence, helps me focus on improving certain areas in my life and eliminates barriers that were previously holding me back.

For example, I was unhappy with my weight, general health, and fitness. So, in 2021 I decided to set myself the challenge of getting fit, healthy and becoming pain-free; I joined The Body Coach app in January 2021 and have completely transformed by health and body, losing over 13kg and dropping two dress sizes. This challenge gave me body confidence, taught me new skills in how to gain strength and fitness and re-ignited my love for cooking. Read how I did this in my article How to be fit, healthy and body confident at 50.

When a challenge is uncomfortable, physically or mentally this is often a reason to keep going with it.

When I decided to re-train as a performance coach, I had no idea this would be so uncomfortable, to the point of being painful at times. It took me out of my comfort zone in so many ways and held a mirror up to my life, which in some areas meant turning over some stones that had been buried for a long time. The change in me has been beyond my imagination and has opened the door to a new and rewarding career. I have learnt new skills, made many new friends, and it has opened my mind to new and interesting ways of looking at life that I had always previously scorned. I am a better version of myself since taking on this challenge.

Not all challenges have to be life-changing of course. These are my 2022 challenges that are much tamer, but still stretch me.

1. To read more and watch TV less; I have joined Good Reads and set myself a challenge to read 50 books by the end of this year. This gives me less screen time, peace, and quietness, and I’m enjoying new books that I haven’t read before.

2. To cycle the Coast to Coast; I have been talking about doing this for too many years. This year, it is going to happen! This will challenge me physically, but the sense of achievement will be huge.

3. Learn to speak Portuguese; I have signed up to DuoLingo doing a 10-minute lesson every day. Learning a language does not come easily to me, but I’m making small progress every day, and it means I will be able to say a few words on holiday in July.

How can you challenge yourself this year?

Think about the different areas of your life, health, relationships, work and business, money, fun and recreation, personal growth.

Ask yourself:

  1. What do I want to do more of?

  2. What do I want to do less of?

  3. What could I do that moves me out of my comfort zone?

  4. What could I do that stretches me?

  5. What opportunities would the challenge give me?

Here are five ideas to challenge yourself this year:

1. A physical challenge: have you always wanted to run a half marathon, swim in open water, climb a mountain? Or maybe you have always fancied learning how to hula hoop, belly dance, or compete in a ballroom dancing competition.

2. A health and wellbeing challenge: do you want to sleep 8 hours a night, get fit and strong or go vegetarian?

3. Personal development: maybe you want to be a better listener or learn a creative skill

4. Work/business: turning your passion into a job you love and getting paid for it. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of starting your own business on the side to see if it can be a route to self-employment.

5. Educational challenge: how about signing up for that MBA you’ve always wanted to do or, like me, learn a new language.

When you have thought of a challenge, write it down and decide when you are going to do it. Then tell someone this makes it real, and you are more likely to do it!

Don’t worry if it feels scary, that’s the point of a challenge. The elation, triumph and sense of achievement will come at the end once you have completed it. The journey to that accomplishment is where you will grow by learning new skills, gaining new experiences, meeting new people (maybe) and sharing your ups and downs with friends and family.

If you would like help in setting goals and challenges then get in touch, I would love to hear from you.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Joanna Stokes, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Joanna Stokes is transformational leadership and career coach and a trainer and mentor to further education leaders. She has 18 years of experience in Further Education, the last 8 years as a senior leader in a variety of organizations including the CEO of an adult education charity. She was an Ofsted Inspector for five years. After experiencing the powerful impact coaching had on her career, her mission is to spread the power of coaching across the sector. She coaches education professionals and trains workplace coaches and mentors. She qualified as a personal performance coach in 2020 and is now on a mission to help education professionals create the freedom to live the life they want.



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