I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague who I’ve known for many years at our recent Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Conference. Moataz and I shared our future life plans and discussed the meaning of success and hard work. Our conversation led us to a mutual realization that I want to share with you.

We agreed that in most cases, success – however defined – requires hard work and also smart, clever, and creative work. Even overnight successes are rarely truly overnight successes. It only appears that way to outsiders who only notice when a creative hard-working person breaks through into our collective awareness after toiling for years in often solitary anonymity.

But Moataz and I realized there is a downside to equating success and hard work. The relationship of success being a result of hard work can turn into a belief that for anything to be considered a success it MUST be preceded by hard work. The corollary is that if something is easy it WILL NOT lead to success and, further, that if something is easy it simply CANNOT be considered a success.

The trap here is that any important endeavor undertaken is presumed at the outset to require hard work, likely involve many steps, and take years to reach fruition. If achieving success is already established beforehand as requiring long, hard, and complex work, then almost certainly the plan to reach one’s desired goal will be designed to require long, hard, and complex work. The trap is the setting up of a self-fulfilling prophecy. This mindset closes a person off from considering the possibility of easy, fast, gentle, and perhaps even fun fulfillment of a desired outcome.

For example, many people dream of early retirement to do what they finally want to do. Early retirement though, often does not turn out to be all that early. Stop and consider for yourself what it would take to retire early. The thought of it is daunting and often quickly abandoned.

More foundationally, though, is the question of what early retirement represents for the dreamer of early retirement. Most desires are a means of escaping from something bad and / or achieving something good. So, what bad will early retirement allow the dreamer to escape from and what good will it allow achieving?

Possible answers are an escape from overwork or from unrewarding or stress-inducing work. If so, maybe the answer is not early retirement but a new job. A new job still requires careful consideration and some legwork, but it is a league easier and faster to attain than early retirement. Or early retirement may represent an opportunity to travel or live in another part of the country. Well, a telepsychiatry practice with perhaps a narrower and more rewarding scope of practice is attainable within a few weeks.

And, most importantly, some changes that allow reaching one or more interim goals can be made today. Yes, this very day. Most of us have some itch to scratch or pain to relieve and that itch-scratching and pain-relieving can be done today. The plan is not the goal. The goal is the goal. And some goals don’t need a plan, at least not as originally imagined, as much as they need a focus on the goal and action that can be undertaken today. Asking oneself, “What is the fastest, easiest way to reach my goal?” and “What can I do today to bring that goal as close to today as possible?” can be a useful antidote to death by planning.

Many of us were raised or acculturated through our long years of education and training to come to believe that we deserve success but only when we first sweat, bleed, suffer privation, and renounce ease of life over many years on our road to achieving that success. I have an image of myself being so preoccupied with planning for some future endeavor with such intensity and earnestness that I step right over success lying right in my path and missing it. After all, right in front of me is not where I’m used to looking for success! I’m used looking for it far in the future across a scarred landscape of sleepless nights, difficult endeavors, and risky undertakings.

Yours in fun, quick, and easy,

Dr. Jack

Language Brief

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein

“Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.” – Dorothy Parker

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”” – Coco Chanel