When I was a young girl, we used to go to Missouri each summer to visit my grandma. Our entire clan of aunts, uncles, and cousins would descend upon her home for our annual family reunion. As cousins, we would search in the woods for special treasures, get chigger bites by the dozen, and play all kinds of make-believe games. Being the oldest of the cousins, I soon wanted to prove I was more mature in my choice of activities and opted to join the adults.
I remember one summer, in particular, I begged my grandma to let me help with a puzzle the adults were working on. It was not the typical puzzle but one big round picture with thousands of red marbles jigsawed into as many different pieces. Looking at all of the small shapes across the table was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to begin.
My grandmother showed me how some of the edges were flat (more rounded) and set me to task gathering these pieces to help form the puzzle’s edge. Gradually, with each small task of searching for varying shades of red or types of shapes, I was able to help put this puzzle together. My grandmother taught me about puzzles, but she also taught me about how to methodically work through any given task.
One of my favorite English teachers in high school took this lesson one step further. He had the saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” prominently displayed in his room. We would often try to disprove the literal meaning by bringing him a free lunch or mentioning who had paid for our meal. While the meaning of the old adage is you can’t get something for nothing, Mr. Walton’s purpose was to remind us that there were no shortcuts to writing or life for that matter.
Today the internet and media are flooded with short-cuts and “how-to” blog posts and articles. The movie title “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” comes to mind. We have become a society drawn to the quick fix for the hard questions we face in our lives.
- How to lose those stubborn 10 pounds.
- How to teach your kids to be perfect.
- How to nurture our most important relationships.
- How to know if . . . And the list goes on and on.
“I wanted the benefits of a man with good character, without having to change and actually have that character. I wanted a quick fix. We all do, I guess. A book about real change that I could thumb through quickly while reclining on a lawn chair at the swimming pool…where I could figure out my deeper problems and head home a few hours later with the wet towel and a new-and-improved me.
I bought self-improvement books. I loved them. They were inspiring. I would highlight paragraphs and read them over and over again to myself. Yet nothing ever changed. I would come in from a hard day of reading at the pool, take a shower, and look in the mirror and still see the same guy I was before.”
Avoiding the Swamp of Life
“We don’t want to be uncomfortable. We want a quick and dirty “how-to” list for happiness…We don’t change, grow, or move forward without work…”How-to” is a seductive shortcut, and I understand that. Why cross the swamp if you can just bypass it?” But here’s the dilemma: Why is “how-to” so alluring when, truthfully, we already know “how-to” yet we’re still standing in the same place longing for more joy, connection, and meaning?”
For a while, I’ve contemplated what might be keeping us from wading through the swamp of life towards what we long for. Maybe we’ve avoided the hard for so long that we’ve forgotten, or lost confidence we can make it through in one piece? Has life become so complicated with technology and demands that a simplified version of anything is always more appealing?
I don’t think we lack an understanding of how to eat more healthy or don’t know how essential time is in any quality relationship, and we certainly comprehend the work required for weight loss — yet we continue to look for the easy way of doing hard things.
Principle of Acting
I could write a different type of “how-to” article every week — helping us feel all warm and fuzzy inside; but until we are ready to act, putting forth the work required, nothing will really change.
In my article about Hope, I discuss the principle of action and the momentum it creates. We can hope for change in our lives, but without action, it is nothing more than wishful thinking. When I feel immobilized by fears, rationalizations, and complacency I find simply doing something – anything really – will help get me moving in the right direction.
The truth is there are no quick fixes for the hard things in life. Action, sacrifice, and hard work don’t have shortcuts, and how-tos are only great if we apply them to our life.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”-Lao Tzu
I’ve started sharing what my grandmother taught me to my grandson. He may be only 3-years-old, but he loves puzzles. Helping him discover the way the pieces fit together has brought back so many memories.
It is easy to get distracted by the big picture and ALL that we want to do. Much like my first puzzle with my grandma – the entire thing can be overwhelming.
Learning to break our challenges into bite-size pieces by focusing on just one corner of the puzzle at a time brings confidence and clarity. Searching for just one shade of color, or type of shape brings perspective. Sometimes a piece is missing from the puzzle, and we are required to go searching, digging deep, to find it. Just as each piece is unique and essential to the whole puzzle, our sacrifice, action and hard work are fundamental components of our big picture called life.