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    The Myth of Effortless

    09.03.2014 / LIFE

    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.

    We don’t.

    (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.

    • Ryan Grady

      I really liked this! Thank you for sharing. I think the toughest thing sometimes is seeing that we actually have the choice to do different and live a life in line with our values, beliefs, interests, strengths and goals. Put how nice comfort can feel and how dangerous vulnerability can feel and it’s easy to see how so many of us can get stuck from time to time.

      • Oh Ryan, this was beautifully put! Yes, you’re right – this is often the toughest thing. :) Life is tricky for sure!

    • Kathryn

      “And we turned our faces in, not up.”

      Yes. I find that many times when I am discontent, that is the root cause. I love the direction your writing is taking! Keep it up :)

      • Oh, thank you Kathryn!

      • That was my favorite line! So beautifully put. I really enjoyed this post and the humble reminder that we all need to keep trying if we want to grow and feel that comfort throughout our lives. It’s comforting to know that all people experience this — that everyone must make a choice to move forward.

    • Oh Erin, how you capture what I’m thinking and feeling so appropriately will never cease to amaze me. Thank you for putting this in words. Thank you for capturing the myth of the effortless – and redefining what we should truly aspire to.

      • Thank you so much for the encouragement, Alexandra!

    • Choices are everything, I’m discovering. And teaching. xoxo

    • Oh, Erin, I want to read this each and every morning as I start my day. So. Beautifully. Said. Thank you.

    • Ah your words are so full of truth, it makes the soul sing to read them! Bless you for sharing. Thank you Erin.

    • OH my goodness. How beautiful is this post. So wonderful. So many beautiful lines- about looking in when we should be looking up, and drawing comfort from those around us instead of working with effort and relying on faith. Goodness I just love these words! xo

    • Erin G.

      Wow. And Thanks.

    • Anna W

      Word. No, but really, Preach it. I know that as I type this reply on my cellphone, which has autocorrect, I am doing everything to reply to this the easy way. Whether it’s a cause, a job, a philosophical debate, or just connecting with people I think this next generation of children are going to have to be taught something we learned from watching our parents and grandparents. And that teaching is going to take extra effort on our part. It ALL only works if we keep our head facing up. Thanks Erin, your the bestest.

    • You know…I needed to hear/read this. Work, marriage, a home…it all takes effort. And especially when changes are wanted or needed. I have so many things I’ve wanted to ‘upgrade’ my life with – make my own safer cleaners for the house, streamline my work flow, be a better ‘wifey’ to the hubbs. I can’t just keep doing what I’m doing…gotta put out some effort if I expect to create the change. I know this isn’t the global scale…but it’s my own little globe. thanks erin :)

      • Oh, I think you’re exactly right, Desiree – I think change happens in our own little globes first. Wishing you a productive, fruitful, effort-filled day! :)

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