Have you ever found yourself doing things the hard way, even when you knew there is a hack or shortcut? Are you a believer in the adage, “a thing worth doing is worth doing well”?
This fits my perfectionistic tendency to a tee. On Instagram, I follow mostly food, animal, travel and dancer accounts, because those are a lot of my favourite things and if I’m going to waste time scrolling, at least it’s pretty.
When it comes to dance, I’ve noticed that the technology seems to have changed when it comes to pointe shoes, and it looks a helluva lot more comfortable than it was back in my pointe-shoe wearing days.
I find myself wondering if I would have gone for the comfy, padded toe caps that are now available and look like they make dancing on pointe waaaaay easier and significantly less painful and bloody (take my word for it and don’t Google “ballet dancers’ feet”).
I mean, for sure I would use those helpful things now, if, for some insane reason I felt I needed to haul myself back into those torture devices. But I’m willing to bet that even if they’d been around 20–25 years ago, I would have considered wearing them cheating. Despite the fact that I danced usually 7 days and 15–18 classes a week, and how on earth is that cheating in any way, shape or form?
Truthfully, even today, I often feel like finding an easier path or using something that would make the task at hand easier means that my success didn’t count.
Bay. Come on.
Just because you can do hard things doesn’t mean you have to do them the hardest possible way.
For the most part, I seem to naturally tend to find the hardest way to do things. I’ve always been this way—ask my mom. She would ask me why I chose to do some chore the way I’d done it, and my answer was that I couldn’t think of any other way to do it.
I seem to be hardwired to find the most complicated, convoluted and, dare I say it, ass-backwards way of doing things. I’ve been told it’s a sign of a creative mind. I guess I’m pretty damned creative, then. Call me Da Vinci.
Mostly though, I’m driven by the haunting melody of “not good enough”. It’s been my life-long theme song, along with with a mashup of Harry Potter and Indiana Jones music. I’m always looking for and going for more, better and what if, and most of the time, that’s awesome.
“Not good enough” can drive me to create and find new experiences, which is great, but it can also drive my unforgiving, self-criticizing survival mechanism. Doing hard things the hard way is one strategy I have to try to shut up that voice. Of course, it doesn’t work: I could always have done it better, and when the going is hard, perfection is not readily available.
I mean, perfection is never really available, though I keep aiming for it. That’s the curse of perfectionism: a perfectionist knows perfection doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t stop her from going after it in her expectations.
Sometimes, I intentionally do things the hard way, because I feel like finding the easy way is not The Right Way to do a thing I care about, but other times, I’m just doing things the hard way because after more than four decades of being me, I tend to automatically do what I’ve always done, which is usually finding the hardest route available.
In some ways, I’m better at cutting myself some slack these days, but it’s still not my go-to, and it depends on what I’m doing.
You can build up an immunity to difficulty, and resilience is a good thing, to a degree. But if you’re used to doing difficult things, then it gets harder and harder to distinguish the difficulty and discomfort from plain old effort. If you see the hard way to do things as the only way to do things, then life is likely going to be filled with unnecessary difficulty and suffering.
For really driven people, the struggle itself becomes a thing you’re used to, because you’re accustomed to doing the heavy lifting required to achieve, accomplish or experience the result you’re going after. Whatever it’s going to take is exactly what you’re going to do, and regardless of the effort, you call that normal.
Here’s the thing: you’re not going to get a special prize for making things harder than they need to be. No one’s clapping for you because you found more ways to suffer than was necessary.
I’m not doing it for the glory (what glory?), or for the acknowledgment or appreciation. Most of the time, the people around me are wondering why I’m insisting on doing hard things the hard way, and would vastly prefer I cut myself some slack.
Not that you’re necessarily doing it for an audience, but at the end of the day, no one’s impressed that you made a challenge more challenging, least of all yourself. You know you’re just going to be seeing the “not good enough”: what you didn’t do, what you could’ve done, and how you cut corners, regardless of how much effort you put in.
You’re making your experience of life more onerous than it needs to be. And by the way, while we’re on the subject, how onerous does life need to be, and according to whom?
If you’d like an experience of life that is more colourful than simply being hard, strenuous, grueling and difficult, then you’re going to need to change your definition of The Right Way to do things.
Here is a not-exhaustive list of things that might feel like cheating, but only if you say so, and I invite you not to say so:
- asking for help
- accepting help (important if you are actually going to ask for help)
- releasing rigidity in favour of creativity: “How else might I do this thing?”
- finding resources, tools and technology that support the task at hand
- letting “easy” be okay sometimes
- celebrating easy wins just as much as the challenging ones
- challenging your inner critic instead of allowing unhelpful thoughts
- letting things be done, as they are, and calling it complete
- forgiving yourself for how something turned out
- acknowledging progress and not just results
- not adding self-doubt and self-loathing and self-criticism on top of the task (it’s hard enough without lugging that crap around, too)
- making rest and recovery essential requirements to your life
- not calling downtime, rest and recovery “lazy”
- working with a coach to help you get there
- working with any other professional necessary to help you get there
- hiring people to support you in your life, personally or professionally (it took me YEARS to be a yes to hiring someone to clean our house, because I could/should do it myself)
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you do things the hard way? What else would you add to the list?