28 October 2010

The harder the better

I fully believe most of the things that matter most in life require effort, work, and dedication to earn the rewards they offer, and pursuit of true principles often requires the loneliness of stepping into uncharted territory or paths most people dare not follow. I believe the best relationships weather discomfort, hurt, and disinterest and require sometimes herculean effort to say, do, or trust what you really don't want to in the moment but which is best for the relationship, or for the other person. But I don't believe the "hardness" of a task or a path determines how "right" it is, and I don't think the "rightest" things are always hard.

On top of or related to that, I think some of LDS traditional culture carries the idea that eternal joy, consecration, or dedication to righteousness amounts to giving up everything that brings your soul alive--all temporal joys, passions, or even pleasures--in ways not specifically promoted in church manuals. It's self-denial carried to...well, if not extremes, then excesses, at the very least in certain hobby areas. OK, so at the very least, I've done it. I'll speak for myself. I'm trying to do that more.

I just know I've gotten a bit caught up in that kind of thinking in ways that end up not holding a lot of water. I still believe there is satisfaction in knowing you've worked hard for something and thereby valuing it more rather than having it handed to you without any effort on your part, though I'm still learning to live this. I believe truth doesn't come easily, and understanding is worth the effort, discomfort, and humility. I believe working through hellish experiences can lead you to deal with similar future challenges better in ways you'd never learn if you had run from them. I believe sometimes you have to just put your nose to the grindstone or bite the bullet (yay for random cliche phrases) and do the things nobody really wants to do but which are no less essential. I believe seeking pleasures in and of itself brings little, if any, happiness and security to my life.

Often, staying in a job under a difficult supervisor until you make the right connection with the right higher-up leads you to better than you imagined. Often, sticking out the rough times of a job leads you to being better capable of handling the stresses and happier in fulfilling your duties until a much better opportunity in the company opens up, and you are glad you stayed long enough to grab it.

But sometimes, a job really is just not the right fit for you, or you really are undervalued and that's never going to change unless the decision-makers change, which they won't in your productive lifetime, or a manager really is a tyrant. It would be very, very hard to stay in that job. It might push you to the brink of insanity, test the farthest reaches of your patience, and stretch your perseverance. Heck, you might learn something profound from that. You might discover more patience than you ever thought you could have. You might realize you can maintain a positive attitude even in the face of the most difficult manager in the world.

Does that make it inherently right for you to stay and keep doing what you signed up to do? Or does your response just make it more productive than it would otherwise be? Maybe you needed to learn those things about yourself, which makes the trial meaningful. But what if another job opportunity came along which paid better, utilized your strengths more efficiently, challenged you constructively, and put you in a much more positive, uplifting work environment? Would you reject it because it seems "easier"? Would you set it aside as less rewarding because you wouldn't have as much "struggle" in it? Would the possibility of entering into a career in which you soar and more naturally and fully tap into your potential as a vibrant, productive worker be a mere temptation away from your learning experience?

I'm not going to equate this with anyone's specific situation or direction, including my own. I'm just saying to have a little caution about this notion that "harder is better" in matters temporal or spiritual, or that something being hard proves that it's right, or that something is only right if it immediately tests your limits.

"I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it" is a phrase I've always loved, and I think it's a valuable reminder. I believe that as we learn and grow, we become ready to face tougher, more complex challenges, and if the rest of my life is simple and easy, I figure I'll have been doing something wrong and not growing and loving enough in meaningful ways. I just try to balance that with...I don't know...something like, "I never said it would be pleasureless or white-knuckled; I only said it would challenge and ennoble you."


Invictus Pilgrim said...

I really enjoyed your post, particularly these words: "I think LDS traditional culture carries the idea that consecration or dedication to righteousness amounts to giving up everything that brings your soul alive, and that eternal joy comes from giving up temporal joys and passions or even pleasures ..." These words resonated with me and articulate some thoughts that have been running around in my mind, trying to take shape. Thanks!

Lee said...

Those same words don't resonate with me. My soul has been much more alive and I've found far more temporal happiness and pleasure.I feel more like a free spirit than ever before. In spite of our differing perspectives, I like this post.

Lee said...

I was referring to our perspectives on LDS doctrine. Otherwise, I'm on the same page with you. I DO believe we need some difficult challenges in order to grow, but when an obv iously advantageous opportunity is presented, I believe it's OK to take that fork in the road.

JonJon said...

I like your rephrasing of "I never said it would be easy..."

Also, in response to the title of this post, I say, "That's what she said."

Original Mohomie said...

Invictus, I hope you don't mind, but I revised the wording of that because when I read your comment last night, I knew it wasn't quite what I intended it to be. I didn't get around to publishing the change until this morning because I was too tired last night, but Lee's comment reminded me to make the clarification.

I know most faithful LDS people would read that and think, as I would have, "Hey, that's total B.S. because following the gospel doctrines is what makes my soul come alive in the most important way."

I do think there are rules within church doctrine and policy which are arbitrarily set and not inherently happy-making. But I'm also talking about...you know, things like the parents who are so fixated on being industrious and serving at church and making the home perfectly ordered and clean and God-centered that they neglect to relax with their kids and just laugh and have fun sometimes without it being a project, or church meetings in which nobody dares to make a funny (even if thoughtful) remark because it might not be 'reverent', or missionaries who get so rules-oriented that they lose a bit of what makes them shine personalitywise (and which needn't conflict with the rules) which might attract people for completely acceptable reasons, such as seeing that Mormons are real, or the members who believe sex should be strictly for procreation and can't imagine it being also meant to be enjoyed between husband and wife as a bonding, pleasurable experience even without the intention of getting pregnant, or just the general attitude that if it's not something I really have to "buckle down and get through", then it's just an easy, cheap imitation of the truth because true things aren't enjoyable but bring a joy far greater than pleasure. Can't they bring both?! I know most LDS people would agree they can, but I see reflections of a possibly selective denial of that in various churchy circles or on certain topics.

I would submit that it's not the simple act of compliance to a rule or commandment that brings happiness. It may be the sacrifice and investment, the humility, the lessons learned, the adventure of taking steps to 'experiment on [someone's] word', exercising principles of healthy and productive living (even if in unnecessarily stringent but nonetheless instructive ways), and the hope for consequential eternal joy, which make your soul come alive when following what you believe to be true in the best way you know how. Whether or not part of the happiness comes from being mystically comforted/blessed by 'the Spirit' as a reward for following the one truest path is another discussion.

But whatever the source of the animation of the soul, I agree my original wording probably came across to many as...almost dismissive or ignorant of the attitudes of "true" disciples towards 'the commandments', which is incorrect and distracted from my point.

Original Mohomie said...

JonJon, my title was carefully chosen for strictly serious, meaningful reasons...and you're demeaning it with crude humor. ;-)

Invictus Pilgrim said...

I am a little bit confused, but I *think*, based on your subsequent comment, that you may have misunderstood MY original comment. (And that perhaps Lee may have as well.) I totally and wholeheartedly agree with everything you wrote in your follow-up comment. These are precisely the sorts of thoughts that have been running around in my head, which I have been trying to crystallize into something that makes sense. I definitely want to do a post around this, because it's very relevant and personal to me and my wife and what we have gone through. And when I do, I'll probably quote at length from your follow-up comment.

Original Mohomie said...

Invictus, quote away. And no, I don't think there was a big misunderstanding. I just wanted to let you know I changed the wording to better reflect what I meant (I think you knew what I meant already) and added clarification for those who may have either misread it or who might get hung up on how I had worded it. It's probably still not perfect, but it better reflects what I meant. :-)

blj1224 said...

I know the secret to true happiness. It's a warm puppy. Oh yeah . . . and Wii. No kidding.

Bravone said...

I hope I don't trivialize your post by saying that I greatly dislike the phrase, "I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it" because so many attribute it to Christ. Unless I'm missing something, He never said that. I know I should just get over it, but can't :/

Original Mohomie said...

Bravone, no worries. I think it's weird that Mormon culture has attached that so specifically to God or Christ, too. I refer to it here as a popular phrase in popular Mormon culture.

blj1224 said...

It IS a popular phrase in popular Mormon culture, and it's accurate. I don't believe it was intended to be represented as a direct quote, but rather a simplified and beautiful way of relaying the message of the New Testament. One example:

Matthew 5:10-12 --
10 - Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 - Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 - Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Even though it's not a direct, word-for-word quote from Christ, it is His message, and I, too, have always loved it. It empowers me to face life's challenges, overcome the trials, and enjoy the journey with hope, optimism and enthusiasm.

I very much appreciate OMO's comments and his version of the message:

"I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it" is a phrase I've always loved, and I think it's a valuable reminder. I believe that as we learn and grow, we become ready to face tougher, more complex challenges, and if the rest of my life is simple and easy, I figure I'll have been doing something wrong and not growing and loving enough in meaningful ways. I just try to balance that with...I don't know...something like, "I never said it would be pleasureless or white-knuckled; I only said it would challenge and ennoble you."

blj1224 said...

Another use of the message:

"Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, so love the people who treat you right, forget about the ones who don't, and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it."

Harvey Mackay

A little background on the author:

Harvey Mackay is the author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers SWIM WITH THE SHARKS WITHOUT BEING EATEN ALIVE and BEWARE THE NAKED MAN WHO OFFERS YOU HIS SHIRT; both books are among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. His books have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. His newest book USE YOUR HEAD TO GET YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR: JOB SEARCH SECRETS NO ONE ELSE WILL TELL YOU, was released on February 18, 2010. When Larry King interviewed Harvey in late February 2010, Larry said, "I really believe this is the most important book right now." The book is already in its fourth printing as of March 1, 2010. It immediately climbed the bestseller list at Amazon.com and hit #1 in four categories: Job Hunting, Counseling, Vocational Guidance and Education. It can also be found on the Wall Street Journal Business Bestseller list.

Harvey writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column and is one of America's most popular and entertaining business speakers. He is also the founder and chairman of Mackay Mitchell Envelope Company. He has been married to Carol Ann for forty-nine years. They have three children and nine grandchildren.

Sounds like an interesting guy. I might have to read one of his books :)


You reminded of a quote in Robinson Crusoe that goes like this " It is impossible to make mankind wise but at their own expense, and their experience seems to be always of most use to them when it is dearest bought." So I don't know that harder is better but I do believe that in most cases I get more from life when I've paid a higher price. A person can learn so much more when they are compelled to find answers to questions. Kind of like that story of a greek philosopher Aristotle? who was asked by a young man how he could be as smart as him. The philosopher took and shoved the mans head underwater and held it there till the man was desperate for air. Then he told the young man that until he desired knowledge as much as he had desired that air to breathe he was never going to have it. Don't know if this even has any relevance now that I've gotten off on a tangent but it definitely made me think. Thanks. :)