Is the Only Thing Keeping You from Easy Street…You?
September 29, 2016
Work can be a pain. You try hard, do your best and still things don’t ever seem to go your way. It seems like you’re always dealing with some sort of problem.
Are you doing something wrong?
If you’re like most of us, you constantly look forward to the moment when you “have it made”—that beautiful point in life when everything clicks and runs smoothly.
Unfortunately, that time never seems to come. No matter how hard you try, there’s always some sort of roadblock between you and Easy Street.
So, what’s the problem? Are you missing out on some big secret? Or does life just suck?
There Is No Arriving!
To answer those questions, we need to take a hard look at what success really means.
For example, while there’s nothing wrong with working towards a better tomorrow—America wouldn’t even exist if the Pilgrims hadn’t left Europe in search of religious freedom—a better tomorrow isn’t the same thing as “having it made.”
After all, half of the Pilgrims died during their first winter in America.
But despite the difficulties endured by the Pilgrims, they seem to have been unfazed by their lack of ease and prosperity—in fact, they reveled in it!
What gives? Why—even though life in America was always brutally harder than anything they had experienced in Europe—didn’t they pack up and go home?
As it turns out, they understood something the rest of us seem to struggle with.
The fact of the matter is, there is no arriving. There’s no point at which life suddenly becomes blissfully easy and straightforward.
Does that mean that goals and dreams are pointless? Absolutely not!
But, it’s important to understand that success isn’t an off-ramp to Easy Street. In fact, achieving your goals usually prepares you for even bigger challenges—embrace that!
Success ≠ Ease
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the idea of Easy Street is tempting. During the first couple of years after I started my own business, I kept dreaming of that moment when everything would click.
Getting a new business off of the ground was hard—harder than I ever expected—but I kept at it, confident that once my business had enough steam, life would get easy.
In fact, I put family and personal relationships on the backburner, promising myself that once things were running smoothly with the business, I’d make it up to them.
The only problem was, I never got to the point where running a business was easy. Sure, we’re at a multimillion dollar run rate and the business is thriving, but leading a successful business comes with just as many challenges as getting a start-up off the ground does.
“Making it big” wasn’t making any difference!
Once I realized that Easy Street was a dead end, I knew I needed to make some changes.
When I was focused on having an easy life, it was easy to get discouraged. And, since I was chasing ease, I would deal with the stresses of life by wasting my time on “easy” things like SportsCenter, playing mindless apps on my phone, etc.
Unfortunately, none of those activities changed the fact that I had challenges I needed to overcome. They were simply a distraction from the fact that my life wasn’t as easy as I wanted it to be.
But, when I started viewing challenges as opportunities—not obstacles—everything changed.
Now, when I encounter new problems, I get excited. I know that I’m about to learn something new that will help me rise to the next level. As a result, I spend far less time on distractions and far more time learning and problem-solving.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t make time to do things I love, but now I’m not doing them because I’m overwhelmed by life. Instead, I’m doing them they add further meaning and flavor to life.
Did this paradigm shift make life any easier? Not really, but it has made life much more fulfilling and enjoyable.
Stop Waiting for Your Ship to Come In!
Let’s be honest, I’m not claiming to have it all figured out—that’s probably about as doable as “having it made”—but I would like to share a few things I’ve learned along the way.
So, if you’re tired of waiting for everything to start going right, here are a couple of ideas to consider:
Focus on What You Can Control
At work or in any area of your life, there are typically 3 types of problems: 1) problems you have control over, 2) problems you have some influence over and 3) problems you can’t control or influence.
If your goal is to make it to Easy Street, it’s tempting to get fixated on the things you can’t really change (stupid corporate policies, your crazy boss, the price of gas, politics, etc).
After all, if those things would simply go away, life would be great, right?
The only problem is, waiting and wishing for the board of directors to change their minds doesn’t actually make your life any better. Along the same lines, you might have some pull with your crazy boss, but crazy is as crazy does—there’s only so much you can do to convince him or her to change.
Let’s face it, no matter how hard you work or how lucky you are, there will always be things you can’t control that make your life difficult.
And, if you spend your time and energy in areas where you have little-to-no influence, you’re wasting resources you could have put towards handling the things you can control.
On the other hand, if you are looking for opportunities to grow and succeed, the easiest place to find them is within your direct sphere of influence.
So, you might not be able to convince your crazy boss to stop making time-consuming, last-minute requests that fall outside of your normal duties, but you can get better at handling your normal responsibilities. That way, when the inevitable last-minute request comes in, you’ve got the bandwidth to handle it.
The more you focus on overcoming the obstacles that you can control, the better you will be at dealing with the things you can’t control.
Work Before Play
As I mentioned earlier, if your goal is ease and relaxation, it’s easy to get frustrated and burned out by life’s challenges.
Since Easy Street seems to be out of reach, it’s natural to turn to the next best substitute: distractions!
In Stephen Covey’s classic, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey breaks activities down into four quadrants based on urgency and importance:
In general, people searching for Easy Street tend to cycle between Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 4. They work incredibly hard in an effort to escape their current challenges. Then, when that fails, they feel an inescapable need to take it easy.
After all, they’ve worked hard and they deserve it, right?
Unfortunately, while they are recharging their batteries, life’s problems start to back up and they wind up running around putting out fires and wondering why they never seem to be able to catch a break.
Fortunately, the key to breaking this cycle is very simple: work before play. When play (ease, relaxation, etc) is your top goal, life’s challenges become an obstacle to play. You do what it takes to make it to your next break, but you aren’t really focused on actually overcoming your problems.
On the other hand, when work and success are your top goals, your focus shifts. It’s not enough to get on top of things, you need to make progress and get ahead of the game.
To do that, you can’t just “veg” when things are under control. You need to start spending significant time in Quadrant 2.
This will take a little upfront sacrifice. Instead of taking things easy when you finally get on top of your Quadrant 1 tasks, you’ll need to grit your teeth and spend your time in Quadrant 2 planning and preparing for the future.
It takes some extra effort to break out of the 1-4 cycle, but trust me, the rewards are worth it.
According to Covey, the most effective people spend the majority of their time in Quadrant 2. They don’t spend all day putting out fires because they’ve already planned for and taken steps to prevent those fires.
Ironically enough, if you spend most of your time in Quadrant 2, when you decide to spend some time in Quadrant 4, you actually enjoy yourself more!
To me, “happily ever after” and Easy Street are two very different things. There is no point in life where everything suddenly becomes easy.
Happiness, on the other hand, is simply a matter of learning to love life’s ups and downs.
When you start taking life’s challenges head on and stop waiting for your ship to come in, life actually becomes easier and more enjoyable. You take charge of the things you can actually control and deal with problems proactively.
And, since your life is under control, you can take a break without worrying about all the things that are piling up while you’re relaxing.
In my opinion, that’s about as close to Easy Street as you can get.
This blog post was originally featured on LinkedIn. To see the original post, click here.