“Life is difficult.”
The above quote is the first sentence in M. Scott Peck’s classic book, The Road Less Traveled, and it may be one of the most important sentences I have ever read. Why do these three words resonate so much with me? The reason is that largely because of modern-day conveniences (think: technology) we have learned over time that many of our daily tasks today are, ironically, relatively easy. Dialing up GPS directions, sending an email, doing online banking, and ordering a meal to be delivered via Door Dash are all examples of activities that are easy and can be completed in mere seconds. While these conveniences are nice, they can also be very misleading when we begin to think — and even expect — that all of our life experiences will be similarly easy. The problem, however, is that most of life is not easy, and in fact life is often quite difficult.
Things that are not “easy”
While ordering a pizza online might be easy these days, many other tasks we face on a daily basis are anything but easy. Because we often begin from a starting point that we expect things to be easy, we become frustrated, upset, and bothered when we are challenged. Rather than assuming life will be an effortless, convenient experience, perhaps we should more properly appraise the challenges we face and assume we will need to put in the work in order to succeed. Below are a few examples of tasks that are challenging and require effort, but are often looked at as things you should be able to quickly master:
- Focusing in class. Rather than assuming every kid who struggles to focus in class is “ADHD,” perhaps we should be more realistic and accept that improving our focus — especially with respect to things we find boring — is not easy! Rather than expecting kids to be able to display great focus skills and putting them on drugs if their minds wander, perhaps we would be better off understanding that learning how to focus can be challenging and requires instruction, practice, and consistent positive reinforcement.
- Getting in shape. While it would be nice to safely lose 20lbs over a weekend, weight loss simply doesn’t work that way. Here again it is important to accept that getting in better shape takes great effort, including healthier food intake, a dedication to physical activity, and an overall commitment to making positive daily choices.
- Maintaining healthy relationships with others. Passively “going through the motions” won’t improve your romantic and/or platonic relations with others, instead, it takes regular effort and attention. Developing communication skills, learning how to compromise, and using conflict resolution strategies are key components to healthy relations, and these skills take time to develop and master.
- Studying for the SAT. Students aspiring to get into the colleges of their choice will likely take the SAT (or ACT), and earning a high score usually takes a lot of preparation. While some kids score high with little effort, most kids will need to brush up on their studies and may even use a tutor in order to earn a high score.
- Learning how to play an instrument. Here again for every person who picks up an instrument quickly, many more will need to not only put in the hours to learn how to play, but also overcome anxiety and frustration when they don’t master an instrument overnight.
- Starting a career. Beginning a career is never easy, especially when it comes to getting a resume together, networking with professionals, and developing strong interviewing skills. Still, many people experience impatience when they don’t get that great first job right out of college and realize the career process can be a lot of work.
- Overcoming sports anxiety. Whether you’re a pro athlete or a little league player, overcoming nerves is a big deal! No, there is no magic wand to make it all go away, and often athletes battle their entire careers looking for ways to tamp down insecurities while increasing self-confidence.
When we expect life challenges to be as easy as sending a text message to a friend, we set ourselves up for anxiety, frustration, and anger when things don’t immediately work out. These negative feelings can have a direct effect on our behaviors, including the means in which we cope with stress, often leaving us vulnerable to drugs, alcohol, and other potentially dangerous behaviors. When we change our expectations and make them more realistic, only then do we more accurately appraise life challenges and accept that we will need to be mentally strong and motivated to put in the work needed to be successful. Yes, “life is difficult,” and the sooner we accept that fact the better off we will be when it comes to experiencing life success.