Updated: Oct 15
Moving beyond a cold comfort motto to fault tolerance, self-compassion, and radical acceptance
“Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems,
wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.”
— Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur and author
Oh, do I remember where I was when a small business coach sprung this quote on me and I instantly recoiled.
About eight months prior I had just made the biggest sale of my life — sold another book publisher the rights to four of my books for six figures. I took 10% of it for myself and moved into a dream apartment in the landmark Marina City towers with a sweeping view of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, and downtown Chicago, and the first new furniture of my adult life. I used another chunk to pay off business loans.
Then, I smartly “invested” the remainder in publishing five new books that according to the formula that I had diligently crafted and tested, that had worked for my company for years, would set me up for whatever I wanted after that…selling the business, expanding, early retirement.
I had learned what worked in a tough business and now I had the money to do it right. I understood the risks, I played my cards right, and I would finally be rewarded for working away far too much of my 20s and 30s.
Except that was 2008. In June, I realized something wasn’t quite right when one of the authors I published was on two high-profile local television shows, did a big-time radio show interview, and appeared in both major Chicago newspapers—all in a ten-day stretch—and we saw not a blip in sales on Amazon.
I had seen it coming over the years, but in my mind that was the dividing line.
The public’s relationship with the media had changed for good and what it was doing with the Internet and social media remained to be seen.
A couple months later, the reality of the financial crisis and the Great Recession hit and didn’t let up. My big payoff translated into pallets of unsold books in the warehouse. My investment was a gamble and I had lost.
Now I had “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better” to show for it. Heavy sigh. Stomach churn.
Years later, that tough-love wisdom has long since hit me and continues to serve me well, so I pass it on to you.
We all know that writing, publishing, promoting, selling, and making a living from books—or another particular craft or set of creative income streams—is not easy. We wish it were. Boohoo.
When you find yourself, again, in the I-wish-it-were-easier funk, indulge your inner baby a bit, then move on to more productive musings: Where can I get better? How can I get better? What can I learn?
But wait a freaking minute.
That works as a motto, but it’s also kind of shitty advice. At least limited. At the time, “not easier, better” spoke to the responsibility junkie in me (now, mostly reformed). It’s all within my control. If only I did more, knew more, worked harder, and worked smarter not harder.
But it’s also a false dichotomy. Not the entire picture. And though part of the general message still resonates with me—especially its sense that we shouldn’t fight with what is or was (it should be, it shoulda been easier!)—I now gravitate more to the “don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom” piece of the Rohn quote and I want to expand on interpretations of the whole thing and I have a few questions about it…
Instead of thinking only: I need to be better, have more skills, have more wisdom, I also think:
Why can’t it be easier? How can it be easier? Why should I be better? How come I’m not good enough? What makes me think that?
Why do I have to accept one problem after another? How can I mitigate or eliminate problems and not just become better at solving them? What problems are worth tackling? What skills are worth developing? What would I have to give up or exchange for developing those skills, solving that problem?
What makes this challenging? When should I accept the challenge? How can I deflate the challenge as is without being better, without more skills, without more wisdom? Why is more wisdom required? What makes more wisdom better?
If you also wrestle with these things, here are a few ideas that helped me take the “not easier, better” mantra for what it was worth, use it liberally in some situations, sparingly in others, and not at all when it didn’t apply or when I just didn’t feel like it. Geez. It was just something one guy said to me once.
From a logistics and systems standpoint, a big way I broke free from the “if only I was just a little bit better I could do all the things” hamster wheel was understanding the concept of fault tolerance (#6 in the linked article) and building cushions, redundancies, fail-safes into my mindsets and business processes.
Learning that self-compassion was a thing was another good start to not bullying myself into ever-improving to eventually get somewhere better. Self-compassion expert and researcher Dr. Kristin Neff stresses that self-compassion is not self-pity, self-indulgence, or self-esteem. Instead, it’s self-kindness over self-judgment, common humanity more than isolation, and mindfulness rather than over-identification.
“Life regularly and inevitably involves emotional stress, anger, fears around health, shame around failed relationships, but anything short of fully accepting our human experience will keep us caught in those emotions.”
Radical acceptance, in its way, takes self-compassion one step further. I’m not just going to be kind to myself, I’m going to fully accept myself and honor my experience as is. In such a moment I don’t need easier or better.
Finally, despite practicing meditation for over 35 years (and being a super-fan of its super powers), my more recent discovery of the Sedona Method* is what completes this circle for me:
Create tolerant, humanistic, realistic mental and physical systems for myself and my work/businesses.
Practice self-compassion to be kind to myself, more realistic in my expectations and understandings, and more connected to other humans and the larger human experience.
Take that a step further to practicing radical acceptance — of myself, of my experience, of what is.
And, use the simple and powerful releasing tool of the Sedona Method to have the somatic experience of allowing, welcoming, and radically letting go of everything (pain, confusion, negative emotions, desires for control/security/approval, resistance, and then some).
Thank you for reading until the end for the complete story.
Practice, repeat, be wary of making idols out of incomplete mottoes.