Test My Mettle
September 24, 2008 9:16 AM   Subscribe

How can I test and build up my strength, tenacity, and courage. As far as I can see, there are limited opportunities to test my mettle in the corporate world ( besides calling out some a**hole in the boardroom ). I am looking for things to do that will put me to the test and see what I am made of. I am thinking along the lines of CrossFit, 'Man vs. Wild', high stakes negotiation, or skydiving. The only time I can really remember being tested was a fight in 10th grade and the hazing I went through in University. How can I earn a badge of honor when I spend most of my time in a cubicle. I would prefer answers that would not involve the risk of certain death, although I wouldn't mind getting the living sh*t scared out of me. I also wouldn't mind pushing my mind or body to the limit. I am willing to travel, spend money, bleed, and cry.
posted by kaizen to Grab Bag (51 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
Where do you live? Snowcamping?

(I'm also of the opinion that the things requiring the most courage are emotional, so may I also suggest: a committed relationship? having kids? reconnecting to someone? apologizing for that thing? Dealing with heights is easy.)
posted by salvia at 9:20 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can I suggest putting this enthusiasm to work in a less-macho/more-helpful manner? Try volunteering in an inner city in some capacity. It will humble the shit out of you.
posted by GilloD at 9:23 AM on September 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Join the military.
posted by Houstonian at 9:26 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


What do you currently deadlift? Double it.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:26 AM on September 24, 2008


Join a rugby team.
posted by electroboy at 9:29 AM on September 24, 2008


I also suggest volunteering. That or a barfight. But honestly, volunteering is a bit more of a test. I've been working on a political campaign in addition to my regular job. I haven't seen 8 hours of sleep in weeks, I haven't seen my friends outside of the campaign in even longer, and I couldn't feel better about it. Pick a cause and fight for it by putting yourself out there to work on anything.

As a sidenote I consider riding a motorcycle to be a great test both mentally and physically. Everyday there's a new challenge, and every week there's a moment when I wind up pulling over to calm down and have a cigarette.
posted by piedmont at 9:30 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


How can I test and build up my strength, tenacity, and courage?

People often think that "people at the top" have some sort of strength, tenacity and courage which allows them to do the tough jobs. That hasn't been my experience. The fully prepared are usually victorious.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:35 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I recommend the example of Henry Rollins, who's a spoken word artist, a world traveler, a musician, a radio host, a writer, and a dude who actually *cut back* on how much he could lift once he realized he wasn't a young guy any more and could really hurt himself lifting 520 pounds. He writes, he performs, he goes to parts of the world most people are never going to get to, he puts out a few books a year and a couple CDs.

He doesn't have a girlfriend, but you don't necessarily have to follow his example in all things, yeah?
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:37 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


How can I test and build up my strength, tenacity, and courage.
I am looking for things to do that will put me to the test and see what I am made of.
How can I earn a badge of honor when I spend most of my time in a cubicle.
I would prefer answers that would not involve the risk of certain death, although I wouldn't mind getting the living sh*t scared out of me.


The first thing that popped into my head upon reading these requests: Marry a redheaded woman.

That prospect might be too terrifying, as there is almost certainly risk of certain death involved, you might want to consider this other, lesser test: Walk the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, do a through-hike, two thousand one hundred sixty some miles through mountainous, beautiful terrain. Not only will it test everything you are interested in having tested, but it would do so over a longer term, which really is an underrated quality; most anyone can show strength, tenacity, and courage for a weekend -- do you have the jam to do so for six months?

Or climb Mt. Rainer. Or white water rafting. Climb Denali. Have a child.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:39 AM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, other than starting your own Fight Club, and while you're waiting for other answers, I would recommend reading Sam Sheridan's "A Fighter's Heart"..
Might like it.
posted by willmize at 9:39 AM on September 24, 2008


The hardest thing I've ever done, the thing that tested (to their limits and beyond) my tenacity, stamina, emotional control, and physical capacity for perseverance and good judgement in the face of tiny amounts of sleep, horrendous stress, and terror like you can't imagine, was to care for my mother as she was dying of cancer. Six months. I'm an only child. My father had died a few months earlier. I was not yet thirty.

You will learn more about yourself than you want to know in a situation like this. It tests you in ways that jumping out of airplanes or trekking through the wilderness with two matches and a two-foot length of fishing line can't and won't. I understand that you can't go ask someone close to you to start dying, please, so you can test your mettle, but if there is a hospice organization in your area, you can call them up and start volunteering.
posted by rtha at 9:42 AM on September 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


I second the military. In boot camp I was amazed at how many older men (may in early 30's with families) dropped what they were doing (say, working in a cubicle) and joined.

Also, fight, when I went to my 1st ship in 2000, a group of us would go into the voids of the ships and seriously fight, as friends, and we would get the crap beat out of us all the while feeling alot better about our situations.

Everyone needs to test themselves, maybe pain isnt what your after, but to see if you can push yourself furhter, pain will be involved...

Good luck brother,
posted by TeachTheDead at 9:44 AM on September 24, 2008


Try backpacking. But not the "I started growing dreadlocks and my parents paid for my holiday" type that stereotypical students go for. Buy yourself a plane ticket to a completely unfamiliar country and a return flight from several hundred miles away. Take virtually no money. Your challenge is to flourish in a culture you're not used to, with a language you barely understand. Finding (and failing to find) places to sleep, ways to earn money or food and people to give you lifts acoss country will be a great way to see how resourceful and self-reliant you can be. It should also provide a completely different perspective on life after working in boardrooms.

Alternatively:
Volunteer firefighter
Take up a martial art
Take up a physically risky sport (BMX, rock climbing, power kiting...)
Take up something emotionally risky: counselling, palliative nursing, campaigning for something you're passionate about...
posted by metaBugs at 9:45 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Find a local mixed martial arts gym and start training to get in the cage.
posted by ignignokt at 9:46 AM on September 24, 2008


Yeah, MMA or Brasilian Jiu Jitsu.
posted by the cuban at 9:49 AM on September 24, 2008


any asshole can jump out of a plane or get into a fight; we'd all do it if our lives depended on it.

mentoring underprivileged kids, volunteering at a hospice—these kinds of things, that take real emotional tolls and that you're not going to brag about at a bar over some beers with your brahs, these are the kinds of things that really speak volumes about your inner strength. macho bullshit is exactly that: bullshit.
posted by lia at 9:50 AM on September 24, 2008 [16 favorites]


Try adventure racing. Or, for just a single day of hell instead, check this out.
posted by vytae at 9:53 AM on September 24, 2008


Have you considered hiring someone to hunt you? That would truly be THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. I bet you could find people willing to do this on craigslist, and you could set up rules to keep it from being too insane (time at my job is off-limits, no deadly force allowed, etc.)
posted by Greg Nog at 9:53 AM on September 24, 2008 [11 favorites]


I am looking for things to do that will put me to the test and see what I am made of.

You're going to get skewed results, because the things that you end up doing will be things that you have chosen to do. Anything that you pick to do, and then prepare for, isn't going to test your strength, tenacity, or courage as much as some random crap that happens without you being prepared for it.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:59 AM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Own your own business and have to meet a payroll tomorrow when you have no money today.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:01 AM on September 24, 2008


I second metaBugs' "volunteer firefighter" and add to that volunteer EMT.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 10:02 AM on September 24, 2008


"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare." -- Mark Twain
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:06 AM on September 24, 2008 [12 favorites]


Do a 7 day sesshin.

Few things take more mental courage or determination than choosing to stare at a wall for 7 days straight.
posted by milarepa at 10:11 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Try volunteering in an inner city in some capacity. It will humble the shit out of you.

Seconded. Emphatically.
posted by desuetude at 10:15 AM on September 24, 2008


None of your suggestions will test anything. You're choosing fun things like camping, learning martial arts, and skydiving. Those are recreational things millions of people do casually. Most people dont choose volunteering at a shelter or food bank because these things actually do test your mettle. Find the thing that least attracts you. Do that.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:19 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sky-diving doesn't test much....it's just kind of a fun/exciting thing to do...I would agree with the volunteering stuff above. Especially if it's something you DON'T want to do. That's how you will test your mettle, not by having fun climbing cliffs and jumping out of planes.
posted by Grither at 10:20 AM on September 24, 2008


Pick a sport (individual, not team), and attempt to become a champion.
High-level competition against highly-trained human opponents is an extreme test of mettle, and it comes with official badges of honour and recognition - if you can make the grade.

Since it will involve a LOT of sacrifice, pick a sport where the skills are useful in Real Life too. Being a tennis champion means you're good at tennis. Being a martial arts or dance champion means you're useful in other situations too.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:26 AM on September 24, 2008


Make a list of your five biggest fears and knock them off the list one at a time. Overcoming fears is the best way to test yourself.

Fear of heights? Take up ice/rock climbing until the heights don’t bother you anymore.
Flying? Take lessons until you solo.
Bugs? plant a garden, pick up bugs and study them.

You get the idea. The point is, if you’re not afraid of jumping out of an airplane than going skydiving, although certainly thrilling, isn’t going to test your courage. There’s nothing courageous about climbing a mountain if you enjoy climbing mountains. Only by facing your fears straight on and dealing with them will you be courageous.
posted by bondcliff at 10:31 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Another option: give things up.

No television or internet for a year; no electricity for a year...

I'm currently trying a vegan diet that is extremely austere (Dr. Fuhrman's diet). I'm only allowed to eat fruits, veggies and legumes. I can have half a cup of wheat per day. No refined sugar; no salt; no alcohol. No dressing on the salads I eat for almost every meal. I've been doing it for a month. It's been interesting. I've learned a lot about myself.
posted by grumblebee at 10:40 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're getting three different answers here and above, because it 's being interpreted as three separate questions.

If it's about Thrill Seeking: I was a poor college student when I first went through this phase. I slaked my thirst for adrenalin by doing Urban Exploration, from crawling around in steam tunnels to climbing radio towers, but that ended with my first Criminal Trespassing charge. Too expensive! I graduated into rock climbing, adventure sports, and travel. Of these, travel took the most courage. I quit my job and travelled for a year. I did it twice. Europe, Africa, Asia, South America. Stepping out of a plane (skydiving) or jumping off a bridge (bungee jumping) take only a thimble-full of courage in comparison. You can get yourself into all sorts of challenging trouble, and challenge your bravery in a thousand different ways by travelling, particularly if you go out of your way to get off the beaten path.

Physical Challenge: NOLS or Outward Bound, Adventure Racing, Boot Camp workouts. Of these, Adventure Racing is the one that will demand the most, while still allowing you to keep your day job. I have a couple of friends who did the Texas Water Safari race this year. They were on the water for over 120 hours. They were utterly devastated by the physical and mental challenge, even though they were well-trained and well-prepared. Both of them definitely found their limits. Of course there are also less arduous races. Adventure Racing groups often file online "race reports" so with a little googling you can find out what's involved in a more typical race.

Courage: Volunteer in the inner city; become a big brother/big sister; become a volunteer fireman; join the Peace Corp. Seriously. Adventure will challenge your mind and body, but volunteering will challenge your heart. If you really want to find out what you're made of, then find out what you're willing to fight for. The stakes are completely different, and a whole lot more real. If your current locale doesn't appeal to you, then volunteer abroad.

Have fun.
posted by zueod at 10:44 AM on September 24, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'm reading all of these soft "go volunteer in an inner city" responses, and, honestly, at first blush, I'm thinking "oh come on folks just answer the man's question."

And then, on the other hand, I'm a different guy than I was a year and a half ago. Completely different.

About that long ago, I packed up my comfortable life into a 10x10 storage unit (I've eliminated some of it since, but I'm still amazed at how much crap I still own), and moved to Africa to work with one of the larger relief NGOs doing work in developing countries there. I didn't have a single person I knew on the continent, and I had never been there before. It was hard work, high exposure to people who had been doing that kind of stuff their whole lives, and were really good at what they do. It required a lot of shifts in general living that I didn't really see myself making, but I was. Crime was a daily factor that had to be considered in your most basic of plans (leaving the office late, getting home safe from the airport, etc.). I avoided one car-jacking attempt and didn't avoid one mugging and 2 pick-pockets. I spent hours at various border crossings, proffered bribes, and at other times got into yelling matches over suggested bribes or with-held passports. I saw mob "justice" being meted out more than a couple times, and I got out of a few other similarly hairy situations with no long-lasting damage to speak of.

I learned how to adapt to different cultures, how to keep your sense of alertness on constant ready and yet interact with the world around you in a polite manner at the same time. I learned how, because of my skin color, almost every price would be quoted double to me at the outset, and every transaction would essentially be an argument that started there and went slowly down. I visited some countries with very tense political situations where the simple act of having a camera out would make me a target for secret police. I visited others where we had to choose our roads carefully because recent flooding had the potential to move around unexploded land-mines from recent war. I had to repair various vehicle malfunctions, winch one out of a river we were trying to ford, sleep in some pretty uncomfortable situations, and went without food on a number of days.

But you know what? All of that stuff was nothing - nothing - compared to being constantly, constantly surrounded by the very poorest people in the world. I never was a guy who cries much - I can't remember clearly when the last time I had cried had been before leaving for Africa. But if you want your mind and emotions put to the very limit, there's nothing quite like completely submerging yourself in the furthest corners of the world where people live on literally next to nothing. People who have never seen electricity or running water, people who have never used a latrine or eaten processed foods. My work was to try and help these people, and yet I kept running into the fact that I could never really help everyone. I kept hitting it like a big wall of fail, and then trying to get up again and somehow keep going.

I used to think that being a true badass was what made a man. I've been in a few fights in my life - got my ass kicked pretty hard once, took up martial arts (which taught me a lot about how true badassery is about how well you avoid a fight). I've lifted a lot of weights and I still do distance running. I've sky-dived, bungee-jumped, mountain-climbed above 19k, surfed, skied, dived, you name it.

I know who the real men are, though - they're the guys I got to work with over in Africa, and their colleagues in the other parts of the world. That's a real badge of honor - punching someone in the face will never compare to that in my book.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:45 AM on September 24, 2008 [44 favorites]


White Collar Boxing
posted by nineRED at 10:50 AM on September 24, 2008


macho bullshit is exactly that: bullshit.

Are tautologies still tautologies?
posted by electroboy at 10:51 AM on September 24, 2008


You could do an ironman. At least, that's the way I like to travel, spend money, bleed, and cry.
posted by smalls at 10:55 AM on September 24, 2008


So, you want to bleed? Donate blood.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:02 AM on September 24, 2008


I haven't read this book but saw it quoted somewhere and copied it down. It's what I thought of when I read your question. I'll put it here without comment or suggestion, and hope it helps you in your challenge.

"You risked your life, but what else have you ever risked? Have you ever risked disapproval? Have you ever risked a belief? I see nothing particularly courageous in risking one’s life. So you lose it, you go to your hero’s heaven and everything is milk and honey ‘til the end of time. Right? You get your reward and suffer no earthly consequences. That’s not courage. Real courage is risking something you have to keep on living with, real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one’s cliches."
Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction
posted by roombythelake at 11:26 AM on September 24, 2008 [10 favorites]


Also, yeah, I had a coworker who would attempt to start Fight Club with me at random occasions (we worked at a bank).

That's not really testing one's mettle, that's being batshit insane. (My standard answer was "Sure, lemme run home and grab my bokken and run back-- it's about two miles round-trip, and then I'll be armed!" She never took me up on it.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:10 PM on September 24, 2008


Even if joining the Army full time is too extreme, there's always the national guard in the US, or TA or similar in the UK...
posted by prentiz at 12:14 PM on September 24, 2008


There are way better answers above, but when I read your question I thought you might enjoy poker. Played well, poker is high pressure negotiation with playing cards.
posted by chrchr at 12:56 PM on September 24, 2008


Become a foster parent. You will "travel, spend money, bleed, and cry," although there might be some rough days, too.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:02 PM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sail on a traditional tall ship. I've not spent much money (hooray!), but I've travelled a bit, bled quite a lot (my DNA is now embedded in several sails) and cried a lot. And developed a death grip. And been in pain, on the way to getting in fabulous shape. And done things I would never, ever have thought possible -- over and over again, even. I finally get what a 'character-building experience' is.

(It's getting drunk with a bunch of sailors until the wee hours of the morning, actually :) )
posted by kalimac at 1:13 PM on September 24, 2008


You mentioned crossfit in the lead-in, and I think that's a great idea along with many others here. I asked myself the same question 2 years ago and, amongst other things, I picked up crossfitting and trail-running. You'd be surprised how far you can run if you don't worry about how fast you're going and refuse to stop until you're done.
posted by nameless.k at 2:34 PM on September 24, 2008


Well, how about parachuting into a forested hillside that's on fire? You could try a summer as a smokejumper? It will test your strength, stamina, courage and ability to make decisions that can mean the difference between life or death.

You can also try some ultra runs.
posted by X4ster at 2:43 PM on September 24, 2008


All the suggestions above are good starting points, especially allkindsoftime's one about volunteering for the NGO. I'd like to offer a slightly different one that hasn't been put in the hat yet.

The one thing that has really changed me was volunteering with animals. The things that humans are capable of doing to these innocent creatures can really make you want to go homicidal. I saw everything from perfectly normal and healthy pets being surrendered because people were moving to the abused dog with the scars from an embedded collar and who would cower away when you even looked at him. My biggest trial was hand raising a kitten for the local animal control from the age of 3 weeks. At 8 weeks, after watching him thrive and bonding with him, I had to turn him back in for adoption. To this day, I still have no clue if he ever made it out or if he ended up on the "Pile of Death" with the other animals who weren't adopted.

Seeing these things not only raised my awareness about them, but it also gave me the strength to do something about it. I have always been an animal lover. However, before this, I would have never thought to intervene if I saw any kind of cruelty happening in front of me. Nowadays, I would have no hesitation. I understand the danger I might put myself into. But at the same time, it is worth it to save the animal the suffering.

That's my two cents, anyway....
posted by arishaun at 11:25 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Have and raise children.
posted by scrawlyman at 11:25 PM on September 24, 2008


What about training yourself up to see if you could consistently "win" fights with a grizzly bear, armed only with a knife? (say, six or eight inches long)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:42 PM on September 24, 2008


I saw piedmont's suggestion about motorcycling and also highly recommend it. I think it has many opportunities to test your reflexes, and, depending on where you drive, a lot of your other qualities as well.

Earlier this year I drove solo across the country and then to Panama and back, just over 25,000 miles. I was rear-ended in Arizona on the way home and broke my fibula and had some gear stolen in Florida but those were the only two really bad experiences. Bribing people at the border required a number of skills not normally used in everyday life.

I tried to use the trip as a way to raise money for the Alzheimer's Association, and pictures from my trip are available here.
posted by beaugunderson at 9:50 AM on September 25, 2008


Ride Paris-Brest-Paris. 750 miles in 90 hours.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris-Brest-Paris
posted by paanta at 12:35 PM on September 25, 2008


Along the lines of volunteering:

Work in a hospital or nursing home. I don't mean volunteer to read to the elderly (though that alone is intimidating) but actually get a job in health care. I became a nursing assistant to get experience for a physician assistant program, and when I started at my local neurosurgery ICU, I was scared shitless.

It takes a lot of guts to start working with patients, and in a hospital setting, you see stuff that tests your will every day. I've seen doctors drill holes in patients' skulls (emergency), blood spraying from arterial lines, patients who are physically aggressive (neurosurgery, remember?) and LOTS AND LOTS of poop. Shit is probably the most intimidating of all of those.

On top of that, you're dealing with patients and families where health is on the line. Patients get sick, patients die. Being forced to interact with terminal patients and their families is another real test of your ability to hold it together, be professional and sill be able to comfort others.

An NA class can take as little time as a week or as much as two months. The job is awesome.

BTW, hazing has nothing to do with personal merit and everything to do with how much humiliation you're willing to endure to be accepted by your peers. I'm in a Greek social frat, and I can't stand hazing. Never did it, either.
posted by cothebadger at 2:25 PM on September 25, 2008


any asshole can jump out of a plane or get into a fight; we'd all do it if our lives depended on it.

I agree with lia. Any definition of "strength, tenacity and courage" that is based on fighting and weekend excursions is idiotic. Such things carry no commitment.

Anything a shallow frat boy could do is, by definition, not a test of your mettle.
posted by jayder at 5:34 PM on September 25, 2008


These suggestions are less extreme than volunteering, especially in the third world, but they should test your mettle somewhat.

Martial arts, for sure. I've been learning capoeira for a few years now, and that's about an 8-10 year commitment before one could reach a standard whereby Joe Public might start to think "wow". This involves three 2-3 hour training sessions a week, plus self-directed fitness, strength, flexibility & technique training. On top of that, you need to learn to play instruments, sing solo in public (pet fear!), attend public performances and ideally learn Portuguese. Our annual belt-grading sessions consist of three solid weeks of training every single day, culminating in a public event on the final weekend.

Backpacking in developing countries. Might as well paste what was written above:

Try backpacking. But not the "I started growing dreadlocks and my parents paid for my holiday" type that stereotypical students go for. Buy yourself a plane ticket to a completely unfamiliar country and a return flight from several hundred miles away. Take virtually no money. Your challenge is to flourish in a culture you're not used to, with a language you barely understand. Finding (and failing to find) places to sleep, ways to earn money or food and people to give you lifts acoss country will be a great way to see how resourceful and self-reliant you can be. It should also provide a completely different perspective on life after working in boardrooms.

This can involve a lot of thinking on your feet & problem solving outside your normal frames of reference & comfort zones, a good deal of physical discomfort that would test the endurance of Superman, and also quite a bit of that coming face to face with abject poverty that allkindsoftime mentioned.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:44 PM on September 25, 2008


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