The myth of ease
What you want requires work
When I was young, before I got it in my head that I wanted to be a therapist, I had dreams of becoming a writer. This was before I knew how exceedingly difficult it is to write not only regularly but well. I was going to be a NYT bestselling author! I was going to write books that paid homage to my favorite stories in a clever but understated way! I was going to succeed at everything I did, and more importantly, I was going to succeed with ease.
The concept of ease is like a weed. It is stubborn and resilient and practically impossible to kill. It is also rampant in creative communities, because who doesn’t want to claim ease for themselves? Who doesn’t want to go about their life without a care in the world?
So ease becomes the goal. Something to strive for. We want things to be easy, and when they turn out to be harder than we initially thought, we wonder if we’re pursuing the wrong thing. Other people make it look easy, so why isn’t it? Are we doing something wrong? Is it a personal problem? Maybe we’re not trying hard enough, and things would fall into place if we just did (insert something overly simplified here).
I’m a sucker for the concept of ease, because it sounds so nice. I love writing! I really do. But sometimes it is unbearably hard. The thought of doing the thing I love most in the world with little to no stress is attractive, because it appeals to the part of me that craves effortless success. I want what I want, and I don’t want to sweat while pursuing it.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of ease. I think that, in most cases, it’s perfectly desirable. Making art is hard enough. Of course we want our practices to be easy!
The problem is the expectation of ease. The belief that, if something isn’t easy, then it’s not worth doing. Social media is largely to blame here — we’re all trying to market ourselves, and posts that reflect the ups and downs of being an artist just don’t perform. We want to see people succeed, if only to remind ourselves that success is possible.
Watching people struggle and fail and try again isn’t nearly as inspiring. But it’s truer in ways that easy success isn’t. For the privileged few, making art is easy. And I’m happy for them! But creating something out of nothing is by and large a struggle.
Are there moments of ease? Of course. Flow is that indefinable yet miraculous state of knowing exactly what needs to happen and executing that vision with little to no fuss. It’s rare, but it happens. But most of writing — most of creating something out of nothing — is the muck and mundanity of showing up. It’s not easy. It’s hard. You fail more than you succeed, and even your successes tend to be tinged with failure, because nothing is ever exactly as you imagined.
I don’t want ease. Not really. I want moments of ease, because they remind me just how magical it is to create something out of nothing. But at the end of the day, what I want is to be stretched.
I want to fail, because the failure pushes me to improve.
I want to struggle, because the struggle forces me to commit. I want what I want, and maybe it’s embarrassing to sweat in pursuit of it, but if that’s what it takes? I’ll sweat buckets. I’ll practice and study and try and fail and succeed and weep because not even my blessed mountaintop moment lasted longer than a day.
Ease is alluring. Maybe someday I’ll achieve it. But for now, I’m committed to this, the devotion of practice, of loving something so much I will cling to it through the highs and lows and valleys between.
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