I’m struggling with the balance between ease and effort. I’m reading a lot of self-empowerment books, practicing yoga, meditating, and journaling up a storm, and it keeps coming down to the same thing: do we build on our strengths and follow our bliss or do we pay our dues, fight hard for worthy causes, and strive toward that brass ring so that when we get it, we can appreciate it? I have no clue. Is this a false dichotomy? Probably. So much of life is so much more integrated and less steeped in duality than most of us can appreciate. But that is the subject of another blog. Today, I’m focusing on a scene I just listened to in Kresley Cole’s Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night (a cringe-worthy title that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of the story—sigh). This book is about Bowen and Mariketa, about whom I wrote last time. They are discussing her strong magical capability and she is bemoaning the fact that she finds controlling her powers difficult. And Bowen assures her that it is her arduous struggle that brings greatness, because what is easy does not prepare us. Immediately after listening to this fictional interaction, I saw a graphic on Facebook that said, “A smooth sea never made a great sailor.” True enough.
But what about the other side of that coin? The one John O’Donohue spoke of in his poem, Flow: I would love to live/Like a river flows/Carried by the surprise/Of its own unfolding. Do we go with the flow or swim upstream? Seems like a silly question. Who wouldn’t want to go with the flow, enjoy the ease of having the river or the tide carry us along? In yoga class this morning, my teacher read a poem by Danna Faulds called Let It Go that told me to, “Save your strength to swim with the tide.” Another of my personal gurus, Danielle LaPorte, tells us to do what’s easy. All of these exhortations toward ease sound so good, but are they true? I want to believe but I’ve been conditioned to think that it’s all about the hard work. I’m so confused.
I’ve mentioned before that I am the mother of fraternal twin boys. My sons could not be less alike. For one of them, intellectual and academic achievement has always come easily, while his brother has had to work assiduously for his good grades. Fast forward to their sophomore year of high school: the work is harder and the expectations are higher. My son who’s never had to toil too much is now struggling because he has no idea how to work, while his twin is continuing his hard working ways to great effect. Seems to me that a habit of ease is not fabulous under these circumstances, and a lack of hard work is beginning to bite him in the butt.
And what about the concept of value? Do we truly value that which comes easily? I think not. I think we discount what we don’t work for and take it for granted. Back to my kids—we are asking them to earn (or work toward) the cars they so desperately want when they get their provisional licenses this summer. They’ve pointed out to us that many of their friends are getting expensive new cars the day they are eligible to drive them. I asked my boys whether these kids whose parents buy them whatever they want have strong characters. They tell me no. They are spoiled brats in many cases. No one likes a brat, and my kids understand that making them earn what they want will benefit them in the end (even though they grumble quite a bit). Incentives and disincentives. Works every time.
So, perhaps between ease and effort we must find balance, as in all things. Too much effort can make us fall into despair and burnout. Too little effort leads us to be frivolous with things that should have value. Finding the balance is the tricky part, of course, but it’s gotta be there. With balance, we get the wounded healer, the successful failure and even the failed success. With balance we get an ugly duckling who turns into a swan, and the child who struggles in school who ends up developing the theory of relativity…maybe. I reassure myself that it sometimes works out that way.
Perhaps balance can be found in the sequence of things—maybe the bad must precede the good, so that struggle comes before triumph. It seems much more difficult to go the other way—riches to rags is always a tragedy, whereas rags to riches is a triumph. So when Bowen explains to Mariketa that it is her struggle that will help her to be a great leader, I think he’s right. I remember learning to pilot a hang glider. A large part of the instruction is how to respond to worst-case scenarios. It’s actually relatively easy to fly a hang glider when everything is going smoothly. But if the wind shifts direction or intensity, if an obstacle suddenly appears (like a truck crossing your landing spot), or the plane pulling you up suddenly disconnects you, who you gonna call? No one, that’s who. You have to solve your own problems at 5000 or 500 feet.
And maybe the balance is between pursuing that which comes easily—areas in which we have innate talent and passion—and hard work in equal measure. If we are exercising our talent, maybe it just doesn’t feel like work because we are enjoying it. Maybe it’s just that easy. Or maybe I need to struggle some more with this dilemma.