Two opposing desires exist in each of us, to some degree; the desire to rise to a challenge, and the desire to do as little as possible. Some of us know what it feels like to work from the time we wake up until the day is through, sleeping as few hours as we can so we can hit it hard again first thing in the morning. Others are familiar with the habit of doing nothing or next to it, spending all day avoiding challenges the rest of us don’t even consider all that challenging.
Then there’s the everyone else, stuck somewhere in the middle trying to figure out a way to strike a balance of some sort between doing too much and doing nothing at all. We know there is a time for work and a time for relaxing, but we also believe that one exists to complement the other. Laying around all day only feels like a reward if we have earned it with hard work, and working hard all day only feels worth it if we get a little chill time afterwards.
If you’re anything like me, you might really admire the people who use their days to get a lot done. You might even be grateful when accomplished people write books about how they got where they are, and describe the methods they used to lift themselves from the place they were to the place they wanted to be. Most of those books have a lot of commonalities, especially when the person writing them was trying to become successful in more than one aspect of their life. You could even sum up the overall common thread of these stories with a single sentence, like I did to title this post.
Making life hard makes life easier!
That hardly sounds like good news to the common couch potato, but the rest of us can extrapolate some valuable tips on living better from this simple statement. The fact of the matter is that life is safer and easier now than it has been in any other period of recorded history. We may not have the same opportunities as those that came before us, but we enjoy the benefits of their social progress and technological discoveries like they never could. We take advantages they never dreamed of for granted, and most of us will never know what it’s like to ride a wagon train across the country or wait weeks to hear news about an ailing relative whose doctor is treating them with leeches.
Of course, the argument exists that those folks didn’t have time to binge watch their favorite shows or check multiple social media accounts several times a day. Almost everything took more effort yesterday than it does today, and there isn’t really all that much history between the lifestyle that had to grow and kill its own food to the modern person that can get a week’s worth of groceries in twenty minutes at the supermarket.
And don’t tell me you’re vegan, and aren’t some kind of murderer; just because you can’t hear lettuce scream doesn’t mean you aren’t eating life to live exactly like everyone else. Besides, the fact that so many people can be so choosy about what they eat is simply another testament to how easy life is in the modern day. You can look to other parts of the world and point out how many people are starving there, but here in America poverty and obesity go together like peanut butter and jelly. We can thank those that came before us for all of this, but we also have to consider what we will pass down that future generations can thank us for.
Now we live with all these modern conveniences, and we have to find some way to fill all that time we have been given by those that came before us. Staring at screens of various sizes can eat up most or all that time if we want it to, but we might be missing the point of all the exhaustive effort that went into creating this easy life for us. For the first time in maybe ever, we have a chance to take care of all the essentials and still have plenty of hours left in a day. As appealing as it is to spend a bunch of time telling others how they should behave, we might do well to spend those hours on ourselves instead.
That’s my polite way of saying that being a social justice warrior often comes at the price of stunted personal evolution, and that the only real perfection is something we can only strive for in our own behavior.
We all know working out on Wednesday makes us feel better on Thursday, that eating real food today will benefit us tomorrow, and that sitting quietly every day can drastically cut down on mental drama. Very few people don’t have some idea of what they could do to improve themselves, but the knowledge stands in direct opposition to the desire to do as little as possible to get what we need to do done. Although we each have our own standards for how much we should get done in a day, we also all have a point where it’s just too much. Striking a balance might be as important as pushing that line a little further in the direction we want to grow, since overdoing it can have drastic consequences as well.
One of my favorite things to do is wake up early and write. It isn’t a favorite activity because I don’t enjoy sleeping in, or because I like to place rigorous demands on my brain before anyone expects me to even be awake. In fact, I love sleeping in almost as much as I love lazy mornings. But sleeping in and having a lazy morning only feels good when it is a reward for a series of mornings where I got up and got stuff done.
When I pound out a couple thousand words because I got up at four, something pretty cool happens. The rest of the day is way easier, and all the mental acrobatics I have to do to get my job done later feels like playtime instead of stress city. If I split up those extra couple hours between writing and working out and meditating, my whole being is on full function like it never is when I just wake up and go to work. Yet some mornings I wake up and look at the clock, and roll over and go back to sleep. The more mornings I do this, the more I feel like a lazy sack of crap; unless all the mornings leading up to that one have been executed productively. Then I feel like I deserve a little reward, and I take that reward without remorse.
Each of us has an idea of how we should be living, whether we are an inspiration to others or an example of what not to do. The funny thing is, we all have different ideas around both accomplishment and relaxation. It may be true that everyone knows the path while few actually walk it, but it’s also pretty clear that the ideal path for each of us is uniquely our own. Blend all these distinctly different ideas with a widely varying motivation to both get things done and make life easier, and you get a pretty confusing bowl of thought soup.
But hey, who ever said life is supposed to be easy to understand?
Maybe the best thing about this whole life thing is the wide variety of examples we get to choose from when piecing together our own version of who we want to be. As much as we like to collectively draw lines and hate on the people who dare to cross them, we can also benefit from placing ourselves on the other side to see if maybe things also make a certain kind of sense from that point of view. I heard the title of next week’s post from someone who heard it from someone else who heard it from someone else, and all of us felt it was one of those phrases that can lead to a lot of valuable lessons.
You’ve probably heard it too, and you might have even spent a little time hurting while you thought about it more deeply later. I know I’m guilty, on both fronts. We’ll go into it more next week, in a post called…
Thanks for reading!
All the best,
The Secret Society of Deeper Meaning