Alexa Chung doesn’t just pull items from her closet and dash out the door. Oprah doesn’t just show up on a couch and chat with her friends, either. I think we all know where I’m going here. We’ve heard about the merits of good, hard work. We know that – to produce change in ourselves – we must do the work. There’s no way around it.
But what about producing change in a collective society? How do we encourage effort in a culture where effortless is the goal?
We talk about flow and acceptance and peace, all of which are high and worthy causes. Yet we talk about these in a very non-committal way, as if they’re human nature. As if we’ve either got it or we don’t. Mother Teresa had it. Martin Luther King Jr. had it.
(But we do.)
We do have it if we’re willing to make a choice. And sure, perhaps Mother Teresa was more predisposed to kindness and sacrifice and servanthood than the rest of us, but I don’t believe that. I believe she woke up in the morning and made a choice. A choice to serve and to give and to love. And I think she made that choice each and every morning, with great, great effort in her human, finite mind.
In other words, there is no effortless. We are always putting forth effort in some area of life – speaking gentler words to our children, putting our spouses first, finishing a project with diligence. Some of us put forth effort toward effortlessness, hoping that if we practice it enough, it will become second nature.
Our favorite guitarists appear to strum effortlessly. Ballerinas dance with ease and grace. Designers make it look simple. And we watch, clapping, cheering – wondering when we’ll arrive at their destination. Wondering when it will all seem effortless to us.
We have an immense need in our culture to define ourselves. To wear billboards for causes; tattoos for identities. We brand ourselves, stand up on our soapbox and we shout. We defend our beliefs and honors and values and passions, and we develop a tribe of like-minded followers.
And then, we sit in our circle. We breathe stale oxygen and pass around dog-eared books and we stay for a bit. For a long bit. We get comfortable and our feet fall asleep and we assume we’ve got it by now. We rely on our collective merits; we coast a bit in our individual growth. It’s second nature, this way of life. It’s effortless, comfortable. We’ve figured it out.
But then, on a cloudy morning, we wake up with a feeling of unease. It no longer feels effortless. We think we’re doing something wrong, and we look to our tribe to give us a boost, a hidden secret, a morsel of wisdom. We call it a slump. It’s just a block. A mid-life crisis. It’s only natural.
And that’s the trap of effortless, I think. We felt the immediate warmth from the comfort of our community, so we – somewhere along the way – stopped stocking protective layers. We stopped filling the oil lamp in the mornings, stopped preparing for a drought. We circled in closer, seeking warmth – approval. And we turned our faces in, not up.
Life wasn’t created to be effortless. It can’t be. Every step forward, every word spoken – they take effort.
So perhaps effortless isn’t the goal. Perhaps faith is. Faith and work and growth and intention. And the decision to make that choice each and every morning, with great, great effort in our human, finite minds.