My entire life, I’ve felt that if something doesn’t come easily to me, I’m never going to find success with it.
Or even adequacy, if we’re being honest. I was an easily discouraged youth, who pummeled through after school activities one after the other, never finding my place. Ballet was a no-go, considering my lack of grace and aversion to direct instruction. Soccer required far too much coordination and understanding of team sports. Violin’s requirement of nimble fingers and music reading made it a two-week-long adventure in “how much money can I get my parents to waste on a haphazard attempt at being considered ‘musical?’”
No, the moment something challenged me, I bubbled over with anxiety, frustration, and discouragement. Perhaps the biggest discouragement I encountered, however, came from comparing my abilities to that of others. There was always that one girl who looked like she’d been born with ballet shoes on, or that one kid who always scored the winning goal, or that one violin prodigy who will probably be performing in Carnegie hall before they graduate middle school. They were living, breathing reasons for why I wasn’t good enough, for why each hobby or activity wasn’t right for me.
But perhaps what drilled this negativity into my head the most were the speculations on why these people were so successful. It was rare that their success was attributed to their hard work or dedication. No, it was always that they were born that way. Born with talent. Born to be a dancer or an athlete or a musician.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve observed this more and more. As I began practicing yoga, and becoming able to practice more difficult variations of poses, people never attributed it to the time I spent on my mat working towards those accomplishments. It was always, “Well you’re young!”, or “I wish I was flexible!”, or “You have the (long/lean/etc.) body for that!”
I’ve realized that very often, too often, we assume that because someone is successful with something, it is easy for them.
Perhaps this is because we tend to only see the end results of someone’s effort. We see the strong yogi effortlessly holding a handstand, and don’t see the brand-new student struggling to hold their downdog. We see the graceful ballerina walking on air, and not the three-year-old who is lacing up their shoes for the first time of hundreds. We see the violinist performing with concentration and ease, not the new musician struggling to memorize the chords and the strings. When we’re exposed only to the end results, we find it difficult to maintain perspective on just what it took to get there.
I know that, at least for me, this phenomenon feeds into the idea of “letting perfect be the enemy of good.” Whenever I wanted to try a new sport or hobby, I was immediately discouraged by the idea of not being the best at it. If I couldn’t be immediately gratified by success, I felt like I shouldn’t do it at all.
Perhaps the best example of this is in food. How often have we heard the excuses, “Well I can’t afford organic” or “I can’t always pack a lunch, sometimes I have to eat out”? These are reasons we often as to why we can’t have a “perfect” diet (which doesn’t really exist, anyway), so we often extrapolate them into excuses as to why we can’t improve our diet at all.
In essence: if we can’t suddenly be the pretty blonde girl who drinks organic celery juice for breakfast and does pilates with a celebrity trainer in the evenings, we don’t feel like we should bother making the changes that we can. We allow perfect to be the enemy of good- holding us captive at one end of the spectrum or the other. And if there’s one thing that is never sustainable nor healthy, it is an extreme.
It’s odd to me that we don’t acknowledge the beauty in the struggle towards success.
We always praise completion: the after picture, the record-breaking race time, the trophy on the shelf. We are constantly exposed to people’s highlight reels, and rarely get to see the behind-the-scenes. It’s because of this that we begin to believe that people who are successful were simply born to be that way. Born with some innate talent that we will never have, so we may as well never try.
We begin to believe that because someone sees success with something, it’s easy for them. Handstands are easy for them. Math is easy for them. Creativity is easy to them.
But this is only because we see the results, not the hard work. We don’t see the hours they poured into becoming that way, into developing their skills and pushing themselves past their limits. And so when we attempt to try new things and find them challenging, we become discouraged because it’s not easy right off the bat- we’re not “one of those people” who finds things easy and effortless and natural from the very start. And so we allow another opportunity for growth to slip through our fingers.
But here’s the thing: if it is new, it will be hard.
No matter what it is. It could be as simple as trying to eat breakfast when you normally don’t, or as big as completely changing the foods you eat. It could be trying to get a hold of handstands or starting yoga for the first time ever. It could be adding an extra run to your week or lacing up your tennis shoes for the very first time. No matter how small the change, it will inherently be difficult, because it is pushing you outside of your comfort zone and challenging the habits you’ve already established in your life.
But here’s the other thing: you can do hard things.
Instead of allowing yourself to become discouraged when things aren’t “easy”, acknowledge that they are hard. Acknowledge that they are challenging you. Acknowledge that they are pushing you. And also acknowledge that you are more than capable of handling this new path in your life.
It may not be as pretty or as perfect or as good of a story as simply being good the moment you try something, but it’s real life. It’s your story. And it makes reaching your goals and changing your life that much more rewarding.
You can do hard things.