1. It’s interesting because I do totally agree with you. But I also don’t. I sometimes describe minimalism as simple or easy. Not because it is, but because I know a lot of people are put off and if you describe something as hard or challenging, it doesn’t matter how worthwhile it is, they won’t even attempt it. Some people will use ‘hard’ and ‘challenging’ as reasons to not even try. It becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy for them.

    On the flip side, I do understand that easy is an oversimplification. I’m the kind of person that if you call something easy and it isn’t, I will get into a huff about it and give up because I couldn’t figure it out.

    Also, yes, you’re students are awesome. I didn’t have anywhere near that amount of self-awareness when I was in elementary school!

    • This was a hard post to write because I can see it from both sides, too. I would NOT call decluttering easy right now, but will I eventually? I hope so. Because I think with time, things do get easier in the sense that we know how to navigate them better.

      There’s a really interesting dichotomy in personal finance and any kind of self improvement: “anyone can do it” and/but “you have to stand out from the rest.” Or maybe you stand out from the rest because you are actually one of the few who does it? Hmm.

  2. I absolutely loved how you schooled your students–bravo at being an awesome teacher.

    I think one example that’s damaging is those ‘how to start a blog in 15 minutes’ posts. Starting a blog isn’t the hard part, it’s growing one that people actually want to read that’s hard. And that takes doing a bunch of little things right that those posts don’t talk about.

    I’ve tried a million times to think about how to encapsulate investing in on article and I’ve found it’s impossible. You have to understand allocations, index funds versus individuals stocks, which account to choose, etc.

    I for sure have been absolutely guilty of thinking things are easy because I’ve been doing them too long. I didn’t want to write about how to make a budget, because I thought everyone knew how to do that. But when I sat down to help people with theirs, it made me realize that thinking in terms of budgets is definitely a learned skill. Thank you for making be a better human being (at least for today).

  3. Awesome students because of an awesome teacher!

    Great points, Penny. Once the lightbulb goes on you can see things. Until then it’s like the dimmer switch is stuck. Thanks for reminding us some may not even have the lightbulb identified yet, let only screwed in the socket…

  4. “But our brain helps us—the pleasure-seeking, path-of-least-resistance-loving creatures that we are—forget. Because if it didn’t, would we ever try to change or improve ourselves again?” Such an amazing point here. And such a double edged sword too. Beautiful writing as always, what a great story and you must be a hell of a teacher!

  5. Interesting post, and I like it a lot. You did a great job in teaching your students a bit of empathy, which is so important.

    I agree with you that people who have been doing things for awhile tend to think their habits are simple and easy. When a habit is automatic, of course it’s easy! And any kind of change is hard.

    However, I do think there is a distinction between simple vs easy. And complicated vs hard.

    I believe NOTHING in life is easy. If you want something, you have to work for it. Some people may have to exert more effort than others, but in general you have to put some work into it.

    So everything that we do is inherently hard, to a degree. But what what makes thing complicated and seemingly “harder” is the external forces (like advertisements, culture, societal pressure, media, society, etc.)

    I think we can exert more control on how simple or complicated things need to be.

    Derek Sivers has a great interview on the Tim Ferris podcast regarding this. Here’s an excerpt:

    “You’ve helped a lot of people make money. Does success in business have to be more complicated than that? I get overwhelmed at times with the directives I find in the “how to make money” or “how to grow your business” content. Isn’t success just as simple as being creative and coming up with ideas on how to help others succeed?

    Let’s talk about two things: simple vs complicated, and easy vs hard.

    Look at running.

    If you talk with people who hate running, you’ll hear them say, “Ugh. First you have to get your running clothes, and get dressed. Then you have to put on your shoes, then lace them up just right. Then you have to stretch, and warm up. Then afterwards you need to cool down, then shower. It’s such a pain!”

    But if you talk with people who love running, they’ll say, “You just pop out for a quick run.” If you ask them about the steps involved, they’ll say there’s only one: just run.

    So knowing that we have this human nature to think of things we like as simple, and things we don’t as complicated, you can use this to deliberately simplify how you think of something you’re avoiding, making it more appealing.

    An ultra-marathon is simple: you just run 100 miles to the end. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy!

    Success in business can be simple: find a need that people are proving they are willing to pay for, then find a profitable way to solve that need for them. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy!

    Notice (in your mind) when your complications are holding you back. Turn the dial towards simplicity, so you just jump out the door and start running.

    Notice (in your results) when your simplified approach is holding you back. Perhaps you’re using only one tool in the toolbox, and need to learn others.

    And as for all the business advice out there, well, if information was the answer then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs. So really you, yeah you listening to this, you need to shut that shit off, put your blinders on, get out the door and start running. (Metaphorically speaking, that is.)”

    • Sure. I can appreciate this. Something can be simple to do or at least simple to comprehend, but it’s the execution and the follow-through. It’s the long slog. Even when something is simple, waiting long enough to see something to fruition is complication because all the other aspects of life are happening.

      I love the Tim Ferriss podcast, but I do think that we have to be careful to consult world-class performers, too. When you’ve had success with something, I think it’s much easier (heh) to call it easy OR simple.

      • Excellent point! World-class performers definitely have a skewed perspective after having so much success. And you’re right, execution and follow through can be hard.

  6. Excellent post! I love how you helped your students understand–instead of just telling them, you helped to show them.

    I think not only do we tend to forget how difficult things were when we first started to make a change, but we (like your students) forget that each of us have different strengths and challenges, and so what’s relatively easy for me may be difficult for you, and vice versa.

    It’s tough because those clickbait titles are exactly what people want to click on…we want it to be easy, even when we know in the back of our minds that it’s not.

  7. Great story on how you showed your students that mazes aren’t all universal. Sure their are the ones that you do in elementary school that I assumed they mastered but when you take it up to the next level, it doesn’t feel easy to them anymore. It shows that ‘Nothing comes easy’. Sure you know the steps on getting there but when you actually go out and try to execute it, that’s where it can be difficult. Every level you master, their is one that is higher that you have conquer as well. It takes practice, patience and be driven.

  8. I love this post! What a powerful lesson you gave to your students about empathy. It’s so important to keep in mind that we have no idea what other people are dealing with in their everyday lives. It’s like a quote I love, which I will probably get wrong: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I don’t think it’s discouraging to say, “yes, this will be difficult.” It’s empowering to say, “This will be difficult, but the journey will be so worth it in the end!”

  9. Love it, a great story! Easy and simple are two different things. When something is simple it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Also something may seem easy on the outside, it is always harder than you expected. Don’t judge someone or something based on your own impression. Walk in so one else’s shoes first before you pass the judgement.

  10. I’m in my forties and still trying to figure out how to exercise regularly, so yes, I get things that are not easy. In addition to experience, I think personality and aptitude play a huge and underappreciated role in habit formation. For example, my natural tendency is towards minimalism, so I find organizing and decluttering easy and very satisfying. But I also tend towards being very lazy, so at the opposite end of the spectrum, anything physical is a nightmare for me.

  11. I absolutely loved this post. I didn’t think one piece of written work could be equally funny, enlightening yet poignant.

    I think as bloggers or *influencers* we have a responsibility to try and be in our readers shoes. It is easy to forget the path which got us where we are, but trying to remember it and empathizing with a new traveller is what is going to help more people down the good path.

  12. I really enjoyed the class story, Penny. I see where you are going with this post, and I think that it is something that everyone who writes or teaches should understand. Everyone’s experience is different with this type of thing and we all react differently to outside influence. I’m sure you see that everyday in the classroom.

    I’m fortunate to be blessed with two “super powers”. First, I have the ability to see what someone is capable of doing. Not necessarily what they will do – that would be too easy. But I know what they can do and that helps me guide them (sometimes successfully, sometimes not.) The second power is more personal, I just don’t care what other people think about anything. I try to understand and empathize, but when it comes to what I do, it doesn’t matter to me whether they agree with me or not. While that may sound self-centered (and it is, a bit), it is also freeing and it allows me to hear what other people think, assess what I believe their motivations are, and use it or forget it. I attribute whatever success I have in this life to these two things. People like that I can see the good in them (even when they can’t), and I’m not easily moved from my path by the dulcet tones of those who would have me believe that they’ve “figured it out”.

  13. I am also curious about the maze that you used 🙂

    A high performing, massive hustle friend and I talked about this not that long ago – the things we are the best at now are things we were the dumbest at, struggled the most with, and hated when we first started doing them. We learned through the struggle because that’s when we truly engaged with the materials or the skills in a meaningful way. As we become SMEs, we forget that struggle that came before the expertise. So when we gripe about not wanting to do something that’s “hard”, we remember that conversation and stop whining.

  14. I’ve heard a lot of “simple, but not easy” in the FI world, which to some point I agree with. Written down on paper, the steps to achieve x, y, or z may SEEM easy, but putting them in practice is a whole different level. But there’s also a certain amount of knowledge or experience you need to be able to comprehend what the steps even mean before you can implement them (“contribute to your retirement account at least up to your employer match.” Okay, but HOW. What forms do you need to fill out? What do you need to do to make sure that contribution isn’t sitting in a money market instead of actually being invested? What should you invest in?? And so on). And I think we forget that sometimes. It’s why we need to be very up front with our failures. It’s not always easy!

    Wow wow wow your students have an AMAZING teacher.

  15. Penny I agree, a lot of things that are “easy” are because we have made them into a habit or a routine for us.

    For example, I work out 6 days a week. It is “easy” for me. I love working out, I’ve been doing it for years now, and I enjoy continue to learn new routines and exercises. I’ve run marathons where I was training at 60+ miles per week to bodybuilding lifting which is where I am today. I’ve basically done it all.

    But rewind about 15 years. When I first started to realize I wanted/needed to get into shape I couldn’t even run 2 miles in under about 17 minutes. I was supposed to be getting ready to join the Army ROTC at the university I was going to and I failed (miserably) the run portion. A few years later when I was in the Army we were doing a physical fitness assessment where I had to do a 185lb bench press and I could only do 3 reps. Now, that weight is a warm-up weight for me. I also had to deadlift 225lbs and couldn’t even get it off the ground…today I was deadlifting 335lbs!

    The workout examples may not resonate, but I think the principle does. Things are “easy” once we do the hard part of incorporating them into our lives in the form of a habit or routine. In Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit” (highly recommend) he states that our brains are biologically programmed to take a process and turn it into a mindless routine. This is how our brains function to keep us from exerting too much energy. What this means is that in the beginning, making a change to your routine is difficult but once you go after it for a bit your brain will turn that work into a habit and you’ll no longer be thinking much about the action but going on “auto-pilot”. The military uses this a lot when rehearsing Battle Drills.

    I do think there needs to be a dose of empathy wherever we are in the journey of life. It takes time, work, and effort to achieve. “Easy” only comes after all the hard work!

  16. This is precisely why I blog while still in deep debt. Showing the slow-going is hopefully helpful to others. Holding myself publicly accountable is helpful to me.

    So many folks get confused about their previous baselines. They don’t remember needing help learning how to conjugate verbs. Learning how to walk without falling. Being able to merge into traffic. The subtleties of social interactions and how to navigate them (I think this is the biggest thing people forget that they spent decades learning)

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