Growing up a child of the 80’s I often heard adults caution me on how to approach life. They would warn me that there was a hard way, and an easy way. The hard way, of course, meant heading in a direction that would mean much work and toil with little to no reward for my efforts; conversely, the easy way meant that things worked out, rewards were sure, and happiness was gained. Their attempt to help was sincere, I’m certain they totally believed what they said. I also believe they may have been appealing to my attraction toward ease—emphasizing that the way I was going was bound toward hardship and that I didn’t have to learn “the hard way” in life. It wasn’t until much older that I realized such instruction was patently false.
As a people we are continually believing, and searching for, an easier way. A way that doesn’t involve uncertainty, confusion, intermittent (and unclear) rewards, strain, and heartache. The drift toward ease can apply to us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—as such, all sorts of distractions present themselves in the form of entertainment, relaxation, diversion, and zoning out; but strangely enough, the “easier way” can also come in the form of work, extreme sports, constant go, and achievement. I have seen some of the hardest working people do all they can to avoid the work of relationships. Whereas this movement toward extremes can be a product of our culture, it also seems to have deeper implications—we are want to avoid anything that we label unpleasant with whatever “vice” we have grown accustomed. The truth is, if we are looking for an “easy way” to move forward then we are looking for a unicorn. We must embrace that if there is to be any maturity gained it will not come without a fair amount of strain—which is hard.
The Grand Assumption:
First, we have to get over the idea that there is an easy way (in fact, I always try to keep in mind that there is the hard way, and the hard way!). I say this, not as a resigned defeat but a realistic assessment that I have actually come to trust and rely on. We tend to throw in the labeling of “hard” and “easy” as synonyms for “good” and “bad”. It may be a grand assumption of our culture that we see effort and strain as bad, and ease and comfort as good—the latter to be packaged and sold. Facing the idea that there is no growth without strain (or pain in some cases) allows us to stop avoiding and begin expecting and embracing the only way. That’s not to say that there is no place for enjoying a nice afternoon by the pool, but it should come as a reward for something gained, not a goal in life. So, the idea that hard is bad and ease is good engages us in the fear and avoidance of the hard way.
We Avoid the Hard Way: by distracting ourselves with other things.
The tendency to distract and avoid things that do not come easy can be both subtle and obvious. We may all agree that video games, YouTube, social media and smart phones of the younger types are an ever-present annoyance that speak of laziness and apathy; but perhaps more deceptive are the methods many use as “virtuous” distractions that don’t really seem like distractions at all: this includes work, church activity, sports, and whatever can keep us on the go. One example may be a husband and wife that are constantly on their son about his video game habits yet spend every amount of free time serving at their local church doing the work of the Lord—only to be distanced from their son and each other (most often without even knowing it!). Please don’t misunderstand, our virtuous distractions may be born out of a sincere need and desire, but if they are being used as a subtle method of distancing from emotionally difficult issues then we are taking a good thing and really using it for our own purposes. I have heard of many an emotionally distant pastor spend all his waking hours in the work of his congregation, only to leave his wife and kids at home to fend for themselves. In this way it appears the couple and pastor are working hard only at what comes “easiest” to them.
We Fear the Hard Way: because it generates uncomfortable feelings.
We may naturally gravitate toward reward, be it a new high score or a paycheck. When the pay-off for us is to just stay in the familiar then we can loop into chasing after what feels safe and unchallenging. This can explain our avoidance behavior when it comes to the hard emotions such as uncertainty, confusion, helplessness, hurt, rejection, and heartbreak. Such feelings can come up within relationships, tasks and obstacles in our life, and even within our own internal processes. Many of us have a hard time admitting that we fear our own feelings, so we can mask them or attempt to shove them down all together. This, in turn, makes it even more difficult to express what is going in inside of us—so we keep running. With this it may help to accept that life is filled with the uncomfortable; as such, the conversation with your co-worker will be difficult, completing that assignment will not be fun, and going to the dentist will cause some anxiety. Remember, its uncomfortable…and it’s okay you will get through it!
The Hard Way is Individual: so we all have to reinvent the wheel.
There are things that are common to all of us, but at the same time, we are all very different. This individuality may present itself in a couple of different ways. For one, our differences may continually express themselves by what we consider hard and easy along with the methods we use to avoid them. As mentioned before, the workaholic may look down upon his video-gaming son but both may be skilled in the art of avoiding the difficult (how like all of us to look at our “thing” as better than someone else’s!). This line of thought can then keep us blind to our own vice in the way of putting off the hard way. As we continue to judge others as “less than” we will continue to assure ourselves that we are “better”—thus putting the two groups at odds when in reality they are very similar.
Secondly, our uniqueness comes by the way we each must go through our own difficulties (more on that later)—which happens with every generation: The older tell the younger which path to take and the younger takes the other path anyway. Try as they might, the adults in my life were making every effort to tell me which way would generate the “better” reward, but I persisted in the belief that I was different. The truth is, I was different, we all are, but not that different. We all have our individual thoughts and experiences, but there are such commonalities of human behavior across the board in that much of our actions can produce reliably predictable reward. Our tendency to reinvent the wheel speaks to the active nature of learning in that there is a type of understanding that comes intellectually and another that comes experientially or by doing. Think about it, if we all learned by just heeding prior warning, it could mean that we really aren’t doers—at least, not in the way that causes some discomfort. Keep in mind that we should heed others warnings, respect their position, and think long and hard about it, while at the same time not be afraid to make some mistakes on our own.
The Hard Way is Inevitable: which means we will have to face it sometime.
When talking about feelings I try to bring home that they are often the one door that can get us to the deeper thoughts that drive them (and us). This means that we must face them…there is no other way. So too the inevitability of the hard way. True, we may try to hold if off for some time but by doing so we may be putting ourselves through a different kind of difficulty. Take, for example, those who are struggling with addiction. Recovery programs will tell us that addiction is a symptom, a maladaptive coping mechanism used to avoid difficult feelings. Over time, the user, instead of working through such painful feelings will simply turn to whatever substance they have relied upon (Looking for an easier way). By doing so, all sorts of hardship may result including broken relationships, job loss, homelessness, and myriad physical problems—making for a very hard way. In recovery, the user must separate themselves from the substance and engage in the seemingly excruciating feelings that they have long been avoiding—which is also a hard way. As a less extreme example, consider the workaholic avoiding relational difficulties at home by spending all hours at the office—she will have to either watch her relationships crumble, or face the difficult feelings that come up by fully engaging them. Either way THERE IS NO AVOIDING WHAT IS DIFFICULT! (I hope I didn’t shout too loudly!)
The Hard Way is Transformative: because it wants us to grow.
The hard way: we avoid it, we fear it, its individual, its inevitable, and its amazing! Like few other things in our life the hard way can transform us into greater growth. In an earlier blog: Sometimes, its Gotta Hurt, I made mention that the hardship we are in the middle of could be telling us something—like we had better change and do something different. In this case the hard way wants us to grow, to experience the struggle and embrace it so we can come out stronger on the other end. We often think that if we had a few more dollars in our bank account we would not have any more struggles (try telling that to all the bankrupt lottery winners!). The hard truth is, working out of our debt or financial hardship is a much more surefire way to ensure we build the muscle to live within our means. Such difficulty can be transformative, because it asks of us something we never thought we could give until pressed to do so. It’s the strain of that extra rep of weight, the telling ourselves we don’t need that super yummy latte, having a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich for lunch again, or driving our old car for one more year. These mini hardships and denials to our avoidance of the difficult are all creating a change in us that will prepare us for days to come. Over time we can see the miracle of growth in our own lives, miracles that can only come, the hard way!
If you would like to read more on these issues go to www.downeyparkcounseling.com and check out the blog—you can also take a look at the video series on YouTube at Counseling 101. If you live in California and would like to make an appointment, either in person or through video telemedicine, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org