How You COULD Make This Week Easy

This semester has been a hard one.  Challenging client work.  Digging the foundation for a book – and that idea-earth feels like hard clay for my mental shovel. Three classes – and one especially challenging.  Sometimes the coach needs a coach, so I’ve been working with a guy named Mark, and we were discussing how hard things were. As good coaches do, Mark was probing my deep assumptions about how things were so hard. He asked where or when I knew I had to work so hard.  “How,” he asked, “did you learn that ‘things are hard’?

For the past year, when asked such basic questions, I’ve been surprised to hear myself describe my past in High Density.  I easily told him that, “life is tough was one of my dad’s mantras.” And it was for good reason:  His parents were poor immigrants and on top of that he was ushered in just as the Great Depression appeared.  When he was 14 he was sent off to become a priest, then flouted his mother’s wishes and quit when he was 17.  Just out of high school, he was drafted and served as a medic in Korea where he was awarded a Bronze Star and an enduring case of Post Traumatic Stress. Within 2 years of returning from Korea he was married with a child, and by the end of the next decade he had 7 kids, and in combination with them he had earned his other great heroic life decoration: a set of “golden handcuffs” that chained him to the Ford Motor Company. All of  his kids worked hard and studied hard, cuz we all learned:  “life is hard.”

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re surely wondering:  “Mulhern, how is this about making my week EASY?”  Right?

So, Mark made this profound observation:  If you perceive that life is hard, pretty much all you will see is — what? what?  — that life is hard. Sometimes it is. And you steel yourself and rise up to meet it.  But he invited me to begin to ask, “Where is life easy?”  He started, in his contemplative style, saying, “Breathing is easy. Walking is easy. Thinking is easy. So is talking.” This may seem obvious, but it actually seemed stunningly so to me, as if I was seeing this and feeling this for the first time. It was as if he asked me to pry off my “life is tough” glasses which have marvelously pointed out every challenge and wonderfully stimulated me to attempt to rise and fight.  And as I put on the “life is easy” spectacles, a whole different world came into focus.

I realized that as a classroom leader, in some classes I do work with incredible ease, and as a result I see all the gifts – student insights, give-and-take, the 80-minute structure, my teaching assistants as just that — as assets, as gifts, as things that make it easy. And when, as I so often do, I bring an oppositional attitude — “this is hard, these students are resisting, I should have prepared better, I don’t know this material” – then, yep, it’s hard!  And it’s not just me who sees and feels how hard I think things are.  My “followers” do, too. And then it is gets even hard(er) as a result. But how much of that hardness” have I actually created, by being sure it must be there?!

So, I’m just inviting you to consider, as I am, that the world you see is not fixed, although your deep stories and assumptions will make it seem so.  Instead of it being fixed, you can approach it and look for what’s there, and especially for what’s easy, for the fact that you have gotten through a thousand Mondays, have willing supporters, have the ability to step back, have the capacity to build momentum, and also the capacity to adjust when things don’t work out.  And as a leader it might be great to ask your team, as well:  “What’s easy for us? What are we naturally good at? What’s working for us?”  What a shame it would be to miss all that great ease and opportunity that’s there when we truly

Lead with our best selves.

  • Loved what you wrote, Dan. So much of how we perceive life and its challenges is a function of the attitude we bring. And so much of our attitude is a function of messages embedded in our brains from childhood. If we can create new messages that form new attitudes, our days can be more satisfying and fulfilling.

  • David, this is so clearly put. Sometimes when I write, I wonder if my message is clear. Your clarity makes me think, maybe this is easier than I thought! 🙂
    It’s always great to receive your contributions to Reading for Leading.

  • Dan
    I am going to apply this technique to save myself some psychic energy.
    Resentment over “unfair, unreasonable” situations can hinder coming to terms with needed action.
    It is one of your better RFLs
    You help us recognize that there are different perspectives on any situation

  • Dan, I agree that life is never perfect, we have to struggle. Don’t be give up. For reducing my leg painful feeling and stress, I do meditation 30 min per day in every morning. I believe it can reduce my stress and leg pain problem. Thanks for your kind words. It is very useful to me.

  • I enjoyed reading this, especially with midterms right around the corner. The world is a like a piece of art and depending on which “glasses” we observe it through will determine the emotion it will conjure inside us. Life can be hard or it can be easy, depending on how we see the situation. We can either give in to the influences of our inner critic, or we can ignore it. It really puts the power back on us individually to determine the outcome of our day. Thanks Dan!

  • Thank you, Professor.

    I needed to see this.

    This is my first semester at Haas, and with 5 Haas classes, 4 involved clubs, work, sports, and slew of other responsibilities, my semester has been….hard. I’ve been so overwhelmed these past few weeks that I have been thinking about nothing but how hard life is for me right now. I am constantly drowning in exams and assignments and feeling like I can’t find a way to tread the water.

    But this puts everything into perspective. For the first time in a long time, I took a deep breath and felt like everything was going to be okay.

    And now I wonder how much of the difficulty I face is self-produced. I wonder how much of the stress I feel is part of a self-fulfilling prophecy of the stress I expect of myself.

    As a child of immigrants myself, I also grew up with the notion that life is hard and that is just the way things are. I was spoon-fed the idea that if you don’t succeed, it’s because you aren’t working hard enough. I’d be lying if I said this isn’t the mentality that I carry to this day.

    But I never approached my day-to-day life to consider where life is easy. I have never looked at my schedule or my workload and thought, “Wow, I’m grateful for the activities I can do effortlessly.”

    But now I am. I truly appreciate the fact that Mark inspired this post, because you both are inspiring me now. I realize that so much of my perception of the world and my work is based on my attitude and my desire to seek what is hard about my life, rather than appreciate what is easy. Thank you for this. Now I have something to write about in my gratitude journal for today. (yes, I am keeping that up!)

  • Dan,
    I am awestruck at the epiphany I experienced which was provoked by Mark’s and your words! As is many times the case–they came to me at exactly the time they were meant to. Life is hard, but when I am mired in the mud I find it hard to move forward. It is hard for me to function as a person, much less as a leader when my lenses are covered in mud. It is hard to move when I am stuck. Thankfully, there are “life coaches” and friends like Mark who can help us reframe our views to enable us to see more clearly and appreciate the effortless things we take for granted. At our school, we are learning Mindfulness from a coach from the CrimFit Foundation and adults and children are learning mindful ways. I agree with Khin that meditation is a critical component of our toolboxes.

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