Sometimes I think I’m my own worst enemy. I’m my own worst enemy. If there is a way to complicate a situation, I will find it.
For many of us, the majority of our time is focussed on maximizing – a situation, financial expenditures, time. Indeed, for some, life has become one giant experiment constantly being tinkered with as we’re coached to improve, iterate, and embrace the challenge. We channel our inner Sheryl Sandberg and “lean-in.” If life doesn’t feel overwhelming, surely we’re doing something wrong?
The “easy” way can seem like a trap.
For example, I’ll follow a mental path that goes a little something like this: “If I give feed the kids cereal for supper one night…then I’ll become someone who feeds my kids cereal for supper every night.” Intellectually I know that’s false. My kids eat cereal for supper a handful of times each year; far too infrequently, I’m sure they would claim. They do not spontaneously combust these evenings. They do not wake in the night complaining of hunger pains. Child services does not knock on my door and declare me an unfit mother. In short, the kids are just fine. Literally nothing bad happens.
Self-discipline and hard work are great, and I’m not advocating for laziness, but sometimes we just need to cut ourselves some slack. Several years ago I read Tim Ferris’ Tribe of Mentors. It’s a compilation of “wisdom” from a broad cross-section of creative, entrepreneurial and athletic types. The quote that stuck in my psyche:
While the quote had more to do with existential questions of purpose, trajectory and, for Tim Ferris, a self-declared mid-life crisis, I think there is reason to apply this principle to smaller aspects of daily life. I can ask myself – would it make my life easier if I:
- Put on a movie when I’m rushing to meet a work deadline and the kids are climbing the walls (mine literally do this, in the hallway, and find it quite a lark to touch the ceiling)?
- Had everyone use the same shampoo and toothpaste to make shopping, organization and general hygiene more convenient?
- Put the clothes in the dryer instead of hanging them on the line to dry?
- Served supper on paper plates, made the dinner party a potluck, or ordered in take-out for Thanksgiving dinner?
- Said no to that evening meeting that could be handled via e-mail in the morning?
- Bought everyone on my Christmas list the same gift (instead of brainstorming and shopping for hours to find a different “perfect” gift for everyone)?
Or what if I: hired someone to deep-clean my house before company arrived for the holidays, started working from home every Friday, upgraded my computer to a 3-monitor setup, or made a single recipe for my lunches all week. Easier doesn’t mean lazy; a 3-monitor setup will make me more productive and efficient. I like the word “easy” because it feels more whimsical – and less clinical – than some terminology often associated with productivity.
An important step toward finding an easier way: identifying the problem – whether that’s a mid-life crisis, a long commute, or the frustration of having six different shampoo bottles in the shower.
When I wanted to start a website, I was overwhelmed with options. Platforms, aesthetics, hosting, fonts.
Question: What would this look like if it were easy? Answer: Having someone I already know and trust take the lead on the project.
Minutes later I had a software developer I’ve been working with for almost a decade agree to get things off the ground for me. No research, no struggling to do things all by myself.
Life is overwhelming. Sometimes it’s important to embrace the challenge, push ourselves to excel, and expect more from ourselves. A willingness to embrace those qualities is how my husband and I co-founded two businesses and why I received research scholarships and completed a Master’s degree. It’s why I take the time to cook most meals from scratch and why I don’t feed my kids cereal for supper every night. But, sometimes we can avoid unnecessary worry and stress by asking: What would this look like if it were easy? The answers might be surprising.
But don’t quote me.