Everyone Has a Mountain
My son came home from his karate class the other day and I asked him how it was. His response was a grumbly, “It was hard.”
To which I replied, “And we all know you don’t like to do anything hard.”
He looked at me, a little stunned by my bitchiness and I replied, “Well, you were practicing your violin today and wanted to quit the moment it got hard. Whenever anything is hard, you want to quit.”
Now, I will say, I was harsh. Obviously quite bitter from our earlier violin practicing adventure in which I struggled to convince him to just try and figure out his notes while he cried and freaked out and yelled because it was hard and then I freaked out because he wouldn’t try. I couldn’t figure out how to get him to that place where one could acknowledge that it was a difficult task but also see that it wasn’t going to get any easier by throwing a tantrum and so simply buckling down and doing it was the only way to go.
In short, I wanted him to do it my way. Which never works. But that wasn’t the point of this post, the post of this post was what happened after.
So, my son was a little upset by my harshness, understandably, and I had to step back a minute and try to explain what I meant. I started giving him the typical talk we always do in that most things in life are hard, and that nothing worthwhile comes easily. Now, he would probably argue me on that one because to him, videogames are worthwhile and they come pretty easily. But the rest of it, not so much. Now, imagine the length of my blog posts and you can imagine the length of my motivational/teaching speeches to my children. What ensued was one of those.
But then it hit me as I was talking to him, everything worthwhile really is hard, isn’t it? Every single thing in my life that I’ve done, that I’m proud of was listing itself in my head and all of it, had been hard. Then another list formed of any successful person I knew of and how they’d gotten there and what struggles they would have gone through to get there. Sacrifices, sore muscles, exhaustion, near bankruptcy, you name it, and someone at the top experienced it (I am lumping athletes and entrepeneurs and artists all together, just go with me here…). And all that stuff is really, really difficult. I bet every single one of them would have wanted to quit at some point. I mean, even mowing your lawn can sometimes be hard and you want to quit but the results makes it all worthwhile. That freshly cut grass smell, the uniform length, the…well, you get my point. Everything worthwhile really is hard, it has to be, or it wouldn’t be worthwhile, would it?
And I just made a blanket statement which is the same as opening the door to argument and criticism. So, right now I’m trying to come up with all the things one would argue come easily. For example, love. Isn’t love freely given and easy to come by? Well, no actually. I’ve spent the past couple years working, and I mean, working, to come to a place where I love myself. (And for those of you to whom love comes easily, great! Good for you! And I assume you have never, ever looked in the mirror and found anything to criticize…right?)Many people struggle to love themselves and therefore, love those around them. It’s hard. It’s work. Sure, I love my kids and my husband, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle to interact with them in a loving way when they are, say, having a tantrum about not wanting to practice, or just shrunk my favorite most expensive shirt or blaming me for ruining their life because I canceled their sleepover.
That isn’t easy. Anyone who has raised a child will say, it’s not easy. Anyone who has been married, even a year (well, maybe not a year depending on how starry-eyed you are at the beginning) will say, it isn’t easy. There are those moments when you look at the people in your life and scream and wish you could just throw your arms up in the air and start all over again. Or run away to a café or a beach or…well, somewhere that they’re not. (Or, those moments when you do the same with yourself, but the problem is, you can’t run away from yourself. You have to keep working at being better, keep trying again.)
But you don’t. Because your life is with them and you need them and so you go back ready to start all over again, after your little respite.
Nevermind your family, you picked them so that means you probably do love them a little bit (yeah, yeah, a lot. I know…) But what about the whole, love your neighbor bit. You can’t say that that always comes easy. When that “neighbor” is some teenager flying past your house at speeds that would kill your dogs or children if they so much set a foot off your driveway, it’s hard to love them. When your neighbor is that kid who just stole your kid’s lunch, it’s hard to love them. When your neighbor is on the other end of a customer service call where they seem incapable of coming up with any kind of solution to your problem besides, “I’m sorry ma’am, I know your product is a piece of shit but you’ve past the acceptable return time so there is nothing I can do,” it’s hard to love them. (On a side note, I put “neighbor” in brackets, because my actual neighbors are pretty damn easy to love…just sayin’.)
And so, I started thinking about the rest of the things in my life. The rest of the things in others lives and as I looked at my son and told him he can’t just have fun all the time and quit when things are hard I realized a very key point. I realized it as I said it. I said, “You know kid, if it’s hard, that probably means you should be doing it.”
To which he went cross-eyed.
But I was serious. Think about it for a moment. Yes, life is supposed to be good and wonderful and we need to take time to enjoy it. But when it comes down to what we are really doing here, the whole purpose of our lives and all that, it seems it’s what seems hard to us is what we should be seeking out, what we should pursue.
Imagine, right now, the one thing in your life you would love to do, dream to do (within reason. Yes, I’d love to be on a massive yacht in the middle of the Caribbean soaking up the sun and being served my drink while a chef prepares my meals and a maid cleans my room. But that is not reasonable, at least not for me.) and ask yourself why you’re not doing it.
Because it’s hard?
Because it’s scary?
Because it’s expensive? Requires sacrifice? Would take too long? You’re too old, too young, not experienced enough, too experienced…and so on and so on?
All of it comes down to being too hard. Too scary.
I’ve spent ten years, but only seriously the past 3 years, writing. My writing routine is as follows: Wave to my kids as they hop on the bus. Clean up the tsunami they left in their wake. Eat breakfast. Finish my coffee. Realize I need more coffee so then make more coffee. See that the counter is filthy so think about cleaning it but tell myself, no, I have to get to work. Go to my desk. See I can’t find my desk in the pile of mess so clean off my desk. Sit down only to realize I forgot my coffee. Go get my coffee. Sit back down only remember I needed to check something online. Check something online. Get distracted and end up wasting hours “checking” things online. Tell myself to work. Open my manuscript. Get overwhelmed by how much work is left. Decide my characters suck, my book sucks. Try to make a change that creates a waterfall effect that requires me to change the entire book. Get up, walk away and decide it’s time to get a real job because that would be easier.
It’s always something along those lines. But then this week I had an appointment with an editor that was willing to take on my work. I’d been waiting for this moment because it was all going to be good after that. After our meeting he was going to show me how to do this, and for some reason I had it in my head that I would just know how to write a bestselling novel and it would all come to me and flow easily. Why? Because I so desperately wanted this to be easy. Because I was sick of it being hard. Because, despite the fact that I knew he’d tell me to start again from the beginning, I had somehow thought knowing I had an editor that believed in me, an editor that had assured me he only takes on projects that are worth his time (publishable, is what I am going to believe he meant), everything would be easier. Because I wouldn’t have that critic whispering in the back of my mind that I’m wasting my time. That personal saboteur who is constantly trying to make me run when things are anything but easy.
But, that critic is still there. The work is still overwhelming and I’m still wondering what the hell I’m doing. And my meeting is over.
Why didn’t he go away? Because what I’m doing is hard. And I don’t want it to be hard. But if I walked away, if I searched for what was easy, I don’t think I’d be happy.
It seems, it’s the hard stuff that makes us grow.
I want life to be one big waterslide, where I’m laughing and having fun and enjoying every single moment of it. Just like my son. I want it to be fun and easy all the time. Maybe that’s why we go to Disneyland so much, because it’s fun and it’s easy. And I can enjoy every single minute of it.
But I can’t live in Disneyland. I would get bored. Soon the crowds would irritate me and I’d notice the little things and start picking at them. I’d hate the food, hate the rides, and just want to go back to normal life. To…the hard stuff. To making my own meals and staring at a computer screen, and…well, you get my point.
Instead of running from what is hard, maybe we should seek it out. Because it seems to me, anything in my life that has been hard, has been what I needed. Exactly what I needed. The hardest lessons in my life, the hardest experiences, have been the ones that have changed me the most. The ones in which I’ve grown as a person. The ones that have made me go, “Wow, I made it through that and I am better because of it.” If it was easy, I just didn’t appreciate it as much.
I could get a “real” job. That really would be the easiest thing for me to do. But then I’d be sitting here a year from now, five years, ten years, still wondering what I could have done if I hadn’t been too afraid to do it, if it hadn’t been too hard. And I’d never get that sweet, sweet feeling of success. Because it’s not about that bestseller or the money or whatever it is. It’s about seeking out what challenges you and overcoming it.
So, the next time you say to yourself, I can’t, it’s too hard, take notice. Because maybe that is exactly what you needed. Maybe that is going to follow you around your whole life until you have the courage to finally tackle it, or, you run out of time.
My kids started snowboarding a few years ago and I wanted to try as well. Now, I had skied as a kid and I sucked and I never enjoyed it. But I wanted to snowboard. The first thing that happened when I voiced this was a response along the lines of, “Ha! Good luck. It’s too hard. You can’t do it. I tried it and I quit. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do…” and so on and so on. And you know what? They were right. It was incredibly hard. However, knowing that it was going to be hard actually helped me stick with it. Because I knew it would never be harder than it was now. That each time I kept trying would make the next time just a little bit easier. Every time I strap on that board I do wish I could just ski, because that would be easier, but I wouldn’t feel as good as I do when I make it down the hill. When I’ve done something that was so incredibly hard but I powered through it.
Doesn’t a cold beer taste so much better after a hard day’s work in the sun? Or doesn’t that couch get more comfortable after you’ve been on your feet all day? Isn’t that holiday just so much better when you’ve been working yourself ragged beforehand? Isn’t that finish line much more beautiful after you’ve run the race than waited on the sidelines?
Instead of telling my son to just power through and try, I’m going to tell him to seek out what’s hard. I’m going to tell him that that is where the sweet spot is. It’s at the top of the mountain, not at the bottom. That’s why they call it a peak. And then I’m going to tell him to find his biggest, baddest, hardest mountain, because that is exactly what he came here to climb.