Easy v. Hard

The days quickly are getting shorter, the mornings darker and colder. The morning commute seems to consist of a repeatable routine. Hustle into the car, hit button to start it because turning the ignition is too difficult nowadays, turn on the heated seats, click the tab that heats the steering wheel, then adjust the climate control settings to make sure the shivering subsides. While waiting for the almost instant environmental improvement, I thought about lyrics from Jason Mraz’s song, “Have it All”,

May you have unquestionable health and less stress.

Having no possessions but immeasurable wealth.

May you get a gold star on your next test.

And may you win prizes, shining like diamonds.

May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows.

Sure, the song and the words make us feel good. Wonderful sentiment being offered. Wouldn’t there be something wrong with us if we wished for anything else for the people we cared about? For ourselves even?

Let’s look at a different quote from German Philosopher Nietzsche:

“To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities. I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished. I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can provide today whether one is worth anything or not—that one endures.”

Wow, what kind of monster thinks those things? That doesn’t feel nice at all? When your family and friends send you a birthday card which sentiment do you want to read? Words like Mraz’s lyrics or Nietzsche?

Safe bet, we’re likely to want to sing along with Jason Mraz and share our kumbaya moment together.

Let’s pause to reflect on which one of the above perspectives may be most useful to helping us move forward in our work days. Let’s seek to separate our feelings from what’s effective.

We like to say to someone, thinking we’re being supportive, “May the wind always be at your back.” We interpret it as encouragement. We wish upon others or ourselves easy progress. We wish for a comfortable life. The phrase suggests we hope life will be easy for you; that you don’t struggle having to go into obstacles slowing you down. This not only is bad encouragement, it’s actually wrong. In the real world, even for sailors, having the wind directly at your back isn’t the best approach. In fact, having the wind behind may provide difficulties. Sailing with the wind is best done diagonally. Sailors seek to tack back and forth so that the wind is hitting them at an angle. This is the best way to make progress. It’s a dance between the wind right behind you and coming from the sides. It’s not supposed to be easy. We’re not supposed to get carried to success. The fastest way forward doesn’t involve a free ride or a lift, some sort of difficulty or cross-wind is essential to our voyage.

How planes use the wind offers further support for the idea that the wind at our back is actually undesirable. With both take offs and landings, planes seek to perform these into the wind. The headwind acts as a helping force, a lift. Whereas a tailwind poses problems and dangers. When we seek the easy way, it’s actually hurting us. It’s a great way to try to frame struggles, hiccups, and headaches we’ll be facing every day. Instead, too many of us are living our work days like we’re walking through the gym avoiding all the weights and equipment while thinking we’re somehow going to get stronger.

The long history of the golf ball offers another great metaphor for what we’re talking about. Originally constructed from wood, golf balls evolved into the “Featherie”. These were labor intensive to produce and involved a leather cover with insides stuffed with goose feathers. The leather coating was covered in paint. These performed nicely compared to the wood balls and were the ball of choice for the better part of 200 years.

The cost and limited life of Featheries kept golf a pretty exclusive activity. In the mid 1800s, a new technique for producing golf balls took over. Some parts of the sap of Maple trees were used to create the innards of the ball. It was a rubbery substance that was then covered with paint. The covering originally was made as smooth as possible and moulds were developed to improve the efficiency of production. A rogue worker left to his own devices determined that balls that had a blemish or two on the cover seemed to fly further than those that were picture perfect smooth. Initially, this insight was ridiculed, but as more people experienced the improvements in ball flight from blemishes, the exterior coverings began to be made this way intentionally.

Perhaps we can try to view ourselves as golf balls in that our scars, blemishes, and struggles may have helped develop us into something better than if we were protected and smooth. Our callouses are the result of earned effort and wisdom that transcend our smooth baby skin. Most of us seek struggle like Dracula craves garlic. We run from it. We should work to consider Seneca’s advice: “It’s a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.”

In a month where we’ll be remembering the sacrifices made by the generations before us in past wars, take a moment to not just be grateful for the struggles others have made from which we benefit, but we should take a moment to reflect on our own thoughts about difficulties. Are we working to make our own lives as easy, smooth as possible? What difficulties do our children endure these days? Are we trying to make our employees job as easy as possible? What can we do to increase our willingness and interest in embracing a bit of frustration? Can we consider trying to embrace the idea of making things intentionally a bit harder?

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” C.S. Lewis