There’s so much talk about results. But the way we talk about them kind of baffles me. They are a BIG deal. All caps, let’s not mess around.
MORTGAGE FREEDOM (You knew I would.)
Why, then, are we so willing to classify these major milestones as easy? Or simple? While it doesn’t take a literal superpower, it does take a whole lot of strength and determination, plus timing and luck.
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Who cares what I call it, Penny? I did it. That’s what matters.
Well, it turns out that something happens to people when we start to call things easy. And I am not talking about people who have already crossed the finish line, checked the box, or filled their bucket list. I’m talking about the people who are still works-in-progress (IT ME!).
Let me paint you a picture.
It was years ago. Almost a decade in fact.
I was teaching Flowers for Algernon, a book I love, to a group of 8th graders that I adored even more so. They were outstanding humans. This isn’t a polite platitude that I would use to describe any of my students. This was a fact. They were good people.
That is why when one student snickered as we read about a main character who struggled to solve a maze, I was more than annoyed. Before I could decide which strategy—proximity, a tap on the desk, the look, the list goes on—to use, a choir of laughter erupted.
I. WAS. IRATE.
Here were what I had pegged as my best students ever and now they were laughing at a protagonist’s struggles.
“What’s going on here? Can’t we tell Charlie is struggling?”
It’s a maze, Miss. They’re easy. You can do them with crayons.
“But think about how awful he must feel. He’s struggling and they just keep telling him to think!”
My students wouldn’t empathize. They couldn’t. For them, the idea that anyone, even a grown up with cognitive disabilities like Charlie, would struggle to solve a maze, let alone comprehend how to do one, was absolutely unreal.
The next day, I walked into class with copies of a maze. I told my students that I would give them extra credit if they could solve this maze. I refused to show them the maze. They were too excited to care.
“Miss, you don’t give extra credit. Ever. You made us sign a paper* saying that. Our families, too.”
*Syllabus. The word you want is syllabus.
I told them this was different. This was an exception. I was still thinking about our conversation from yesterday, and I was really intrigued. I promised them that the maze had a solution, and I asked them to shout out how much time I should give them.
15 minutes. Too easy.
10 minutes. Still too easy.
5 minutes. Piece of cake.
You see where this is going, but they—in all of their maze-solving confidence—could not.
4 minutes or less. That was what was agreed upon. In order to sweeten the pot, I promised them that the amount of extra credit they would earn would be based on accuracy and time. If they wanted the most, they had to be the fastest.
At this point, they were salivating. One student rubbed his hands together like a cartoon character about to feast. Several students started to bounce and wiggle in their seats. This was the best day. This was the best class. I was the best teacher. Nay, I was the easiest teacher.
So, I passed out the maze and shouted go. I walked the room silently at first, then I revealed a timer. On the projector screen. The six-foot tall numbers blinked down from 4:00.
As soon as thirty seconds passed, I noticed it wasn’t so fun anymore. Students were glancing around. At me, at each other. Some of them seemed to be willing the numbers on the timer to slow. Still, they worked their papers.
“Try. Just try,” I encouraged.
A few glances.
“Why don’t you try?”
I waited a beat. “I thought you were excited about this.”
A few more glances.
I waited longer. “Hey, didn’t you just tell me yesterday that mazes were easy?”
I continued to cajole them into trying. I promised them that they should try. I reminded them that it was easy.
By the time the timer hit zero, there was a smattering of red faces. One student looked like she couldn’t decide if she wanted to laugh or cry. Another balled up his maze and tossed it on the floor.
“That was stupid, Miss.”
Slowly, though, they started to connect the dots. Before long, they were whispering to one another. The whisper turned into a rumble.
“You tricked us! You made us feel like Charlie!”
They laughed. They smiled. They bargained with me, insisting that if I wouldn’t give out extra credit (Hey, they signed a paper!), that I could at least assuage their wounded egos with Smarties. Then, we went back to reading about Charlie.
Most people who promise us that things are easy aren’t being malicious. They are like my students. Money is easy. Fitness is simple. Dieting is a 1-2-3. Why? Because they have been doing it forever.
When something is part of your day-to-day life, you have time to appreciate it, understand it, and perfect it. It’s a habit, it’s a routine, it’s part of who you are. Of course it feels easy.
But at one point, it was completely unreal. At one point, stock market abbreviations, credit score components, keto diet calculators all looked more like hieroglyphics than anything readily understood.
Time helps us forget how hard things are. Just like we seldom stop to talk about the mess we are making as we create and make progress, we forget how long the journey was once it has passed. And how hard it was.
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There is nothing simple about change. There is nothing easy about adopting a new lifestyle. This is nothing 1-2-3 about learning a new skill. 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?
But then, there are the others. The select few that get it. They understand the implications behind their words. But they say them anyway. Gluten Free in Five Minutes. Easier than You Think. Value Investing Made Easy. These are just some of the titles that stare back at me in the self-improvement section of the library.
The titles are sexy, sure. But they are also untruths and oversimplifications of a long and important process.
It isn’t simple. It’s isn’t easy. That doesn’t mean change isn’t worthwhile. In fact, that might make it even more meaningful.
I’m not saying not to share your results. Please do. But ask yourself this: Was it always really so easy?
So Tell Me…How do you feel about the idea of easy? Aren’t my students the best?