making hard things easy
When I feel overwhelmed, my usual coping mechanism is to retreat into my personal routines, practices where I feel invisible, where I can meld into the world around me, feel as if I'm a part of the all-powerful universe rather than my so limited self. Iced coffee, outdoor table, reading. Biking around the park at night, fireflies and the moon lighting the way. I let my identity sink deep down and let my surroundings consume me.
I’ve been thinking about how life is just an exercise in making hard things easy. A related thought is how the most true ideas are cliches—you just have to learn at a bodily level rather than an intellectual level for it to embed into the fabric of your being. Ava says that understanding is rare, so you only need a few ideas that are exceptionally clear to you. All that’s left, if you care about it, is to convince others of those ideas at the same level as you.
Understanding, even shallow, is rare to me. I learn slowly. Every new fact or statement yields five more questions, a terrifying hydra of question marks. I've never done something for the first time where I've felt like a natural at it. I have negligible hand-eye coordination, so every sport I pick up it takes me a long time to get to a decent place. This applies to very precise crafts too. Sewing is herculean. Don't let me fold paper; it will come out curved like a fish’s bone. When a shopkeeper in Japan taught my friends and I how to do a simple origami crane, I distinctly remember him making a joke about how I should maybe not go into origami. That didn't stop me from buying origami paper aspirationally (and then proceeding to never use it).
What I lack in talent, I make up for in work. I just do it over and over and over again until some small part of it starts to feel easy. With dance, I embarrassed myself over and over again going to beginner dance classes with absolutely no rhythm. With coding, I feel an urge to rewrite and refactor until it feels right. With writing, I would physically cringe reading the Medium essays I was posting in college and sending to my friends.
Embarrassing myself is at least the narrative I tell in my head, but in reality, no one who matters to you cares when you’re working on something in this way. In every single one of my pursuits, hobbies, passions, etc., this is the feeling my forward momentum gets caught by. I hold a double standard for myself. I’ll encourage every friend who even mentions the idea of writing more while running away from the voice in my head that asks “what are you even putting on this page.” I love how people post random parts of their lives on social media because they are a surprisingly intimate lens into what they find wonder in in everyday life, but I’ll second-guess my picture of a cloud or the alleyway or the moon peeking out the corner apartment, wondering “is this dumb?” I love being there for someone to lean on and be comforted by when times are rough, but when I really need a hug or show of affection I’ll hide my pain because I don’t want to be a burden.
At a certain point of progression, I reach an equilibrium where I know exactly what I need to do to get to my goal, yet my natural second-guessing will stop me. I’ve always really admired the people who will just dive head-first into something that scares them over and over again without reservation and have often tried to force myself to do this in sprints of suffering. However, having recently consumed more content around shadow work, I think the path to sustainable resolution of heightened inner dissonance is actually integrating the parts of yourself that you hide in shame.
Rather than trying hard at doing the hard things, I’ve been thinking about what it takes to just do things that feel easy (or make the hard things easy). It’s a philosophy where you don’t force yourself to do anything. Instead, the directive is to be natural, follow the flow of energy in each moment. I don’t want to toil away at things that stay hard, especially not ones that are out of my control, because you might end up going the opposite direction.
For example, when I’ve become obsessed with an archetype that feels hard to identify as, I try really hard to acquire the aesthetic of “someone who does X” rather than actually being that person. I wanted to become someone who loved creating things, so I made a bunch of side projects in college that had no meaning to me. I worked off machine learning tutorials and built todo list apps using the hottest new frameworks to show I had made something rather than showing my own world. After college, that urge emerged naturally, and I found boundless joy in creating poetic software and participatory websites. Those artifacts were much easier to create and simultaneously much better in absolute terms because they had soul behind them.
If things feel hard, there’s some part that is inherently wrong. It might be that your current mental state isn’t compatible, or your subconscious has picked up on something jarring. If you just listen to your body and follow the path of least resistance, what will you find? When you meet a blocked path, what if you meander a different path rather than plowing through? Wander a bit, keeping your eyes open, and you might just find a shortcut to your destination.
Thanks for reading spencer's paradoxes! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.