E is for Effort
Hard hustle and concerted effort are the keys to success, right? I’m not so sure, friends. This word, effort, has been plaguing me for the past few days (as have some other “E” words, like emotion and evidence), and I could think of no better place to unwrap the complexities of my issues than right here, splashed all over the internet.
From early childhood, it’s ingrained in us—both in school and by our parents—to “try hard.” To me, that’s synonymous with effort, and my man Merriam agrees, by defining effort as “something produced by exertion or trying,” as well as a “conscious exertion of power.” The idea of “trying hard,” of putting all your muscle behind an endeavor, was the only understanding I had about “the keys to success” for most of my life. It was this particular style of training which produced the dogged belief that people weren’t just going to give you the keys to the castle—you had to get out the battering ram and lay siege until the powers that be relented and provided you what you want.
That’s a widely-held cultural belief. It’s a paradigm we operate within, this idea that you must struggle and expend massive effort to grow and expand. This simply cannot be the case, and I know for certain that I see millions of people expending all their effort for little to no reward, be it external or internal.
As a result, I’m pretty sure that’s not the whole story when it comes to a source for strength and growth. In fact, I know it now. Strength and growth doesn’t have to be solely sourced by sheer force. It’s cultivated through our emotional response system, which provides us concrete evidence as to which path we are walking—either closer to or farther from success.
Sure, it usually takes a lot of banging into walls and making mistakes for most of us to learn. I’ve fallen on my knees half a dozen times, had hair-pulling, snot-slinging cry sessions, and made massive mistakes that have all resulted in amazing personal growth and inner strength—but I don’t believe it always has to be that way. I’ve learned important lessons through a far better method, too—through the lens of acceptance and love. The need to validate our struggles has led us to believe that the only way to show up in the world is by using words like “hustle” and “grind” and “sacrifice.” I prefer a different vernacular, personally. “Flow” and “divine timing” and “fun” vibrate higher—just typing them made me crack a smile. I believe you can find a gentler pathway to success—you just have to be willing to believe it’s there and speak it into existence. This may mean you go against the status quo, and you may have to unshackle yourself from some core beliefs, but in the end, I believe it is worth it.
I should stop here. Let’s define success. Ack, even I would have said a few years ago that success=$$$ and a lot of it. Trust me, I really did gag when I first wrote that. Not that financial success is bad or money is evil—quite the contrary. I love money. I’m not scared to say that. I love money, and I love the opportunities the energy of money can bring into our lives. But money is a tool, it’s not a final destination. It’s certainly not an indicator of success in my current definitional iteration. So, if the world shouldn’t only be “efforting” towards making mad bank, then what are we doing with ourselves? What are the traits of living a successful life?
Success’ markers are more esoteric. Success is living in peaceful joy and bringing a playful purpose to all that you do. Could you be making insane amounts of money? Yes ma’am, and I hope you are—I bless your abundance! But, if the steps in the process of making that money didn’t bring you any joy, didn’t elicit any purpose-filled feelings of bliss? I’m not sure you’re engaging in a successful endeavor, in my definitional framework. To put it succinctly: I measure my success not by the amount of effort I put into life, but by the joy I get out of living it.
Effort exists when there is something to push up against. In my world, I’m happiest and most expansive when the walls are moving with me, not closing in. And that, dear ones, is all a matter of perspective. It comes down to your own level of acceptance in the situation, your ability to be in that now moment with whatever is being presented. Your effort in the situation doesn’t control the outcome. It’s helpful to be present and to be providing the best qualities of yourself that you can, but that doesn’t have to be hard. When you’re doing that—when you are accepting of whatever is happening right now, truly conscious and alert—you are able to live in a state of flow—the opposite of effort, and which, based on my evidence, provides the participant with a much better-feeling set of emotions.
I can already hear the next questions brewing. So...does that mean you just flit around, not doing anything? Do you blow around like a tumbleweed? Allie, are you telling me to be a slacker?!
No. It means none of those things. Flow state doesn’t mean I don’t engage in work anymore, that’s ridiculous. It certainly doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped taking out the trash, or that I’ve stopped thinking about solutions to challenging problems. I do all those things. In fact, I now do more of those things, because I am aware that whatever I am doing—whether it is writing an essay or scrubbing the baseboards, just “is.” It is the thing I am doing. I don’t expect anything “out of” that action—instead, I ask myself what I can bring into the act, because that is the only thing I can control. I determine the amount of intent, joy, and enthusiasm I can pour into that work. In that way, success and happiness is truly an inside job, dependent on nothing and no one but yourself.
So none of this is to say that I believe people shouldn’t do work, have goals, or be on purpose. I love all of those things. But I do mean to say that if you can’t at least accept your work, goals, and purpose (let alone find ways to enjoy them), it’s time to stop. Elevated levels of effort are actually an indicator of nonacceptance in my book—if doing a particular task feels like hard work? I need to stop, rewind the tape, and try again with a different mindset because I’m in control of my own acceptance and enthusiasm, not the situation. By definition, if I’m putting in effort, I’m pushing against resistance.
That acceptance mindset is everything. If you can start there—at the baseline “this is the way the now moment is right now,” it delays the slow creep of the forces pushing inwards. Yes, your muscles get stronger if you continuously add resistance to your workout, and that will be true for your mindset, too. But it’s a slow and arduous process, and we know there is only so much weight a human shell can hold before it is crushed, broken, or falls into disrepair. Struggle is a great way to cultivate strength, but staying in that mode forever, that belief that “I’ve got to go through the bad times to become a better person,” isn’t sustainable. I know it isn’t—I’ve been rutted in that mode far too many times to count. Acceptance can change that. This doesn’t mean you don’t want the situation to change—but it does mean that you are able to be at peace with where it is in the present moment, instead of fighting it by way of complaint, anger, or resentment. Eckhart Tolle would tell us, “Leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.”
And it really is.