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October 2nd, 2018
“Don’t work too hard.”
“Take it easy.”
Many have commented, written and ranted about how bad such phrases as these are for our communal psychology. Such commentary always ends with the prescription to do the opposite. To work hard and not take it easy.
But there is a deeper aspect of these notions that is overlooked. The good intention behind each statement is a wish for someone to be happy and comfortable. Working hard is not easy and far from comfortable, but in most endeavors, progress depends on hard work which presents a paradox in the prescription we advise one another with.
Comfort is the key concept behind these notions. We wish for our friends and family to be comfortable because the built-in assumption of the alternative is negative, something painful.
The word ‘comfort’ came to have the meaning of physical ease in the mid 17th century, but the word derives from late Latin and means something akin to ‘strengthen.’
This original definition hints at a nuance that exists between comfort and hard work.
The problem stems in part from our love of absolute categories, this is seeing the world in black and white, good and bad and leaving no room in our mentality for the grey space. We want something to be either this or that because existing in both or shifting at different times is more difficult to keep track of, but if we can equip our concepts with semi-permeable membranes, they become much more dynamic in relation to one another.
Progress, for instance, is never a straight smooth path towards a goal. Just as any person trying to achieve a certain physique or strength goal will hit plateaus that must be endured and broken, progress is usually a series of staggered improvements. Breakthroughs during the attainment of a skill, for example is generally attended or achieved by a kind of relaxing with the activity after a strenuous effort to achieve such proficiency. Anyone who remembers learning how to ride a bike or ice skate for the first time might remember how much more comfortable everything felt when we finally get the hang of it. Comfort suddenly seems to invoke it’s older definition in these cases. By enduring the hard work, something in our ability has strengthened, and as a result, we can now do our new skill with a sense of ease and comfort.
Comfort and hard work are not antithetical to one another, they are complimentary. Comfort in any endeavor is a signal that hard work has paid off and some kind of levelling-up, however small, has occurred.
But the signal should be interpreted two-fold. If something has become easy, then we are ready for the next challenge.
Just as we sleep each night to rejuvenate the body and mind for the next day, achieving comfort should be celebrated and enjoyed, but never should it be the final and perpetual end goal.
Those two phrases that so many have taken the time to hate on should merely be combined and shifted a little.
Instead of not working too hard and taking it easy,
we might want to remind ourselves to take it easy after the hard work.
Doing so also gives us the space of mind to thoughtfully consider where we should concentrate next.