A concept I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about is ease. Ease (according to Merriam Webster) = “relief from discomfort or obligation; to make less painful”. Specifically, about the relationship between ease and effort.
When I was working with my own wonderful coach Chela Davison, we spent time on this topic in relation to my business. I seem to have a long-held belief that “work” generally sucks – that’s why it’s called work! If you’re going to get paid for it (especially if you’re going to get well-paid for it), it’s not going to be that much fun or at least it’s going to be difficult. A corollary to that belief is that the best way to succeed is to try harder, to put more effort in. More struggle = better payoff.
What a seductive concept (not that work sucks, who likes that idea?) – that if we only try harder, we will improve. That effort is the key, if we only put in enough, more, maybe more still, we’ll get there. The only limitation is our own stamina, or fortitude, or perseverance. This belief pervades our work cultures, at least in the Western world.
But my experience seems to be showing me that perhaps the opposite is true. Not that hard work isn’t needed, or useful – it is, and we can’t build successful companies without working hard. But that perhaps there is something powerful and deeply meaningful in working with ease as well as effort.
I had two opportunities arise in two weeks that had been on my list of key steps in building my business for six months. Neither of them came about because I tried really hard to make them happen, both arrived in front of me almost effortlessly. Yes, I had been thinking about how to do each of them for months, and yes, I took advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves to me, which led to both of these things occurring. But they happened easily, almost serendipitously. And that got me shaking my head and seriously considering this notion of ease a little more deeply.
Why had my months of “efforting” – thinking about it, worrying about it, trying to force my brain to figure out the right action – not paid off when an almost off-hand email or event somehow gave me something that was important to me? And how, pray tell, could I repeat it at will?
Ah, and then the paradox shows up. I saw something that was working – having a little more ease, being a little more playful with the things I tried in my business – and I wanted to repeat it.
So what did I do? I started to try harder, to put more effort into getting more of the same to happen. And of course as soon as I started “trying”, the flow seemed to shut off. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but it made me realize what a knee-jerk reaction “trying harder” is, at least for me. And I’m not sure I’m alone in that.
Is feeling worse and suffering more somehow the answer to getting the results we want in our work? What does it really get us? Perhaps some noble sense that we’re more deserving of success because we worked hard or sacrificed to do it. But does it create better results?
I would argue that the answer is no. But this goes against our Western work ethic that focuses on perseverance and willpower, not some notion of “ease”. For me it goes against almost twenty years of a career that absolutely had some wonderful parts, but overall hadn’t truly been in service of who I want to be in this world and what I have to give. The work that I’m doing today – which has WAY more ease than anything I’ve done before – is the work I’m meant to do, is genuinely in service of what matters to me.
What is your relationship to effort and ease? Where are you trying too hard and not getting enough results? Where is ease working, or not working, for you?
(This post is adapted from a similar post on my leadership blog, Compassionate Leadership).