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Girl, Stop Challenging People + Rachel Hollis

I am not a “challenge” person. I don’t sign up to do races. I don’t put my name in those “win a blah blah” business card buckets at lunch counters. When my brother and I were kids, you could bet him about anything and he’d do it. “Bet you can’t get the groceries out of the car in under 10 minutes. Bet you can’t be quiet until dinnertime.” I mean, even at 6 years old that was just so transparent to me but he constantly fell for it. He is a person who likes challenges. He doesn’t like to lose. He wants to prove his worth. 

Now, that’s not to say that I do not sometimes partake in challenges. I’ll walk a certain number of steps to raise money for something. I’ll do a 30-yoga-classes-in-30-days type situation. I even did Nanowrimo, which is a writing challenge. But these are things that would have already been trying to do. I already try to write every day. I already try to get in a yoga class every day. I already like to go for long walks. The challenge is just sort of organizational for me. But if I were going to yoga, like, 5 times a month and someone was like, “30-classes-in-30-day-yoga-challenge you in bro?” I’d be a hard pass. 

I am just not inspired by a challenge. So it feels derivative whenever someone “challenges” me to do something, especially someone I don’t know. Like when my vet “challenged” me to get my cat to lose one pound between appointments. Stupid. Try challenging the cat, you’ll probably get further. 

I am currently trying to read the book “Girl, Wash Your Face” by entrepreneurial millennial phenom Rachel Hollis. I have also tried a sample chapter of Hollis’ second book, “Girl, Stop Apologizing” and dipped a toe into her podcast: RISE. Now Rachel Hollis is infinitely wealthier and more successful than I likely will ever be. And much respect to that woman’s hustle. But never, since my one ill-fated experience at a Crossfit class, have I been challenged so often or so disproportionately to the task at hand. 

“Girl, Stop Apologizing” by Rachel Hollis (Audio Book)

I didn’t LOVE the constant “I challenge you” “challenge yourself” “do you accept the challenge?” cliche machine of the Crossfit class but at least it sort of made sense. You challenge someone to do 10 burpees in a minute, you challenge someone to go faster than you through the obstacle course. You challenge someone to push a little harder than they think is possible.

There’s also a difference between someone challenging me to do something–as if we’re, like, drawing out the dueling pistols at ten paces–and someone reminding me that challenging myself might be a good move. I still don’t like it, but the latter at least seems to be taking my needs into account.

Hollis’ challenges are more of the smack-me-in-the-face-with-a-glove-I challange-you (french accent) variety.

For the record, Hollis isn’t even close to the only example of how challenges are being thrown around; she’s just the example currently toasting my muffins.

The first issue is that Hollis’ use of the challenge cliche constructs for her an “ideal” listener who does not include me. When Hollis challenges me, it feels like SHE is at the center of the exchange. Her challenges only have weight because SHE is Rachel Hollis and I am a dirtbag. Rachel Hollis is better me with it all figured out; she’s looking back challenging me to become her because she has earned the right by being just too awesome. Hollis hasn’t taken any time to consider whether or not I feel compelled by the concept of challenge–whether framing something as a challenge is a rhetorical mode that is attractive to me. Her challenges are a one size fits all rhetorical mode that she assumes will work the same way, with everyone. Textbook cliche.

When Hollis challenges me, what I sense is that she has already discounted me as a person worthy of development because I am not a person who enjoys rising to a challenge. I associate challenges with unproductive criticism, winners and losers (of which I am always on the loser team), and a lack of meaningful connection. I associate the word “challenge” with being forced to do things because someone else decided they were for my own good. 

The issue isn’t whether or not I believe that Rachel Hollis cares about me; to the extent that a stranger could care about another stranger I am willing to extend Hollis the benefit of the doubt that she is, indeed, emotionally invested in my rising to my potential. I don’t question her intent; I question her choice of delivery, which then makes me turn around and question her intent. I mean, if wanting to empower women is Hollis’ brand, you’d think it would have occurred to her to vary up her delivery of said empowerment. When she keeps using the same rhetorical strategies time and again, it makes me wonder if she’s about empowerment for ALL women or just some women, women who rise to a challenge. Some days I don’t even rise out of bed. I can’t get no empowerment Rachel?

In the show notes for Episode 107, Hollis writes:

‘You want a different job you want a different level of income you want a different relationship with your partner. You’re going to have to challenge yourself and challenging yourself is hard”

This is supposed to come across as some kind of lightning bolt moment; some kind of curtain is supposed to be pulled back to reveal my epiphany, like, “oh my god. you’re right. I haven’t been CHALLENGING myself?! What the fuck was I thinking?!”

Also, I get the whole “challenge” thing if you’re trying to get someone to hold a car up off a baby for a little longer. But this particular verb is totally disproportionate to most of the situations that Hollis imagines her audience to be dealing with: not journaling enough, not making enough sales calls in a day. Essentially, just not doing what 99.9% of people also don’t do, which is reaching their potential. Challenging people to believe in themselves, or do a gratitude list or whatever doesn’t make sense to me. You’re grafting an idea suited for the Navy Seals onto first class problems. There are other verbs. Encourage, for example. Or invite. Or even “entreat” if you want to get fancy. 

No verb choice is going to make someone get out of bed at 5am and write a novel. My point isn’t that there’s another verb out there with magic powers; my point is that you could try other things to get different results rather than putting all of your rhetorical eggs in the “chal

And it’s not just the word itself that throws me. It’s the way that, the more this becomes the mantra of personal development, “you gotta challenge yourself,” the more everything is a competition, a struggle, a life-or-death situation. It’s hyperbolic. You can see how the whole “challenge” framework adds a level of intensity to Hollis’ rhetorical performance that seems unwarranted. Here’s more excerpts from episode 107:

00:05:30 Stop procrastinating stop talking about all of the things you’re going to do and actually do something stop telling your friends about who you’re going to be and start taking steps to do something.

00:27:35 Stop overthinking it stop procrastinating. Stop letting your fear of getting it wrong. Keep you from trying anything.

It may seem like choosing a single cliche, which is often just a single sentence, to focus on in every episode is too specific. After all, who cares about one sentence? It’s not the sentence. It’s the redundant repetition of the sentence that eventually becomes an entire framework that eventually starts creating an entire attitude or approach. You can’t run around challenging people all of the time and not eventually become also invested in hyperbole, crisis mode, and just an overall mean gym teacher vibe.

There are truly urgent, crisis issues at stake; refugee resettlement, climate change, and probably something personal happening in your own sphere. Whether or not you create an Etsy store is not one of them, unless urgency works for you, in which case, let Rachel Hollis yell at you. But for the other mass of people for whom being in constant crisis just leads to adrenal fatigue and a Netflix binge, maybe the people who are claiming to have the answers for everyone should find a rhetorical mode that works for more than one kind of person. 


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