In the American culture we have an ideal—Hard work is the secret to success. We are a society that prides itself on this ideal. “Busy” is a good thing. “Multi-tasking” a talent. Long work weeks a badge of honor. “Working vacations” are a sign of dedication. We even post our debilitating “cross-fit” workouts, our daily-miles-run, and the struggles of our long and arduous winters. In short, we are somewhat addicted to demonstrating difficulty because it promotes our commitment to the ideal of “hard work.”
I’m not preaching—I’m confessing.
Our love affair with hard work has created some of the greatest innovations in history. But you have to wonder if all those to-dos and all those hours are really the only secret to success. Buddha said, “The cause of all suffering is attachment.” Wanting and desiring things creates a state of “without.” A mindset where one focuses not on what is possessed but on the things not yet attained. It is a never-ending pursuit for the next thing. Henry David Thoreau suggested a simpler life. The joy we discover when things are owned, but only in our heads.
I doubt these approaches would work for me. I’d complicate the simple life. I’d be landscaping Walden’s Pond, building things, and putting all kinds of “stuff” on my to-do list. It is my “nature” to stay in motion, to move from one thing to the next and to find fulfillment and satisfaction in “checking-off” another box. I am addicted to achievements. I thrive on the idea of personal development. I consider that I may gain weight just so that I can again lose it. I have lost thirty pounds no less than five times in my life. I celebrate such achievements with cake.
But this year was different.
2014 started the same with my list of intentions. A plethora of projects. Target dates and goal dates. All things to achieve neatly organized by categories such as “career,” “creative,” “health and fitness,” etc., etc. Categories with specific goals, goals with specific steps, steps with specific dates. It was an exciting and inspiring list—Two novels to write, innovations and improvements at work, regular trips to the gym, books to read, and a wonderful marketing strategy for my creative endeavors. I had no concerns over the list’s length. I am a hard-working, multi-tasking machine, and did not doubt my ability to achieve it all.
But things went off the rails.
Perhaps the blame can be laid at the feet of Doctor Seligman and his book, Flourish. Perhaps my renewed interest in the 80-20 rule (80% of our success comes from just 20% of our efforts) changed the dynamics or maybe the year of my 48th birthday was just the right time to evaluate the journey to-date and the journey ahead. Whatever the cause, I spent more time living in the day than living in the plan.
And the results were interesting.
2014 felt sort of effortless. I didn’t push myself to achieve. I barely lamented over my intentions. I did things, but it didn’t feel like a marathon, it felt more like a walk. I also let others do things. At work and at home, I didn’t feel the need to be the one to “get it done.” I trusted my children to make their life choices (they are adults now). At work, I let the team do what I pay them to do. I decided, with a little internal resistance, that I was not responsible for everything and everyone. I learned to keep my mouth shut. In the autumn, as I thought about 2015, I forgave myself for taking 2014 off. I assumed the effortless year meant zero productivity. I looked back with apprehension at all the things I had left unattended.
And I was surprised.
The “effortless” year was marked with worthwhile achievements. In doing what felt like nothing, I actually did a lot.
- I didn’t kill myself at the gym, but a quiet commitment to low carbs consumption resulted in the loss of an additional five pounds.
- I didn’t market my books on any schedule, but You and Me Against the World won a Bronze Medal in the Readers’ Favorites International Book Award Contest and a 4th Place Honorable Mention in the Wishing Shelf Contest.
- I never got around to blogging every week, but I wrote some good stuff and I successfully completed the A to Z Blog Challenge.
- My most “viral” blog post turned out to be the shortest thing I’d posted, The 10 Things Every Serious Writer Has—it was made possible by the down time I took chatting with my friend and fellow author S.K Anthony.
- At work, I wrote the articles I wanted to write, recycled old ones when I didn’t feel like writing, and was surprised to discover that I had written 30 articles and 15 eBooks.
- I let the team do their stuff and we had a record year for our marketing stats.
- I had time for more communication and one interview I took wound up in Family Circle magazine giving me 15 seconds of fame.
- I was surprised to discover I had read six books.
- My children did not get arrested, there were no drug addictions, no unwanted pregnancies and no college expulsions. They still appear happy and well-adjusted…and maybe a little more confident.
The lessons of 2014 were over due.
The 80/20 Rule is true. Most of the “stuff” doesn’t add anything to our life or our goals. It’s a big leap though. That “hard-work” is so enticing. I didn’t plan an 80/20 year but I got one and it made me wiser. As I look at my new list of “things to achieve” I am more focused on my passions and not the “shoulds.” I am also more critical of the “to-dos.” I ask, “is that item important to my larger plan and to my bigger goals? Is cleaning my office closet really paramount to my success? Might the joy or writing one really good novel be better than killing myself trying to publish two? Does the world or my writing career end if I admit I don’t want a damn twitter strategy?”
And that was my true discovery in 2014— my life is not a “to-do” list. It is not an 80-hour workweek. There is satisfaction in hard work, but effortlessness does not devalue achievement. A bird flies because of the hard work of flapping its wings and by effortless glides upon the currents—its flight no less amazing.
I don’t intend such a Laissez-faire approach to my 2015 ambitions. It’s not lost on me that much of 2014’s success was built on previous efforts. But I do intend to hold on to the lesson that efforts are important, but that they needn’t all be “hard.” And just because I can do something…doesn’t mean that I should.
Categories: Life is Funny