Pay Up Front
You’re going to have to pay. You get to decide two things: when and how much?
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You’ve probably read the famous Les Brown quote, “Do what is easy and your life will be hard. Do what is hard and your life will become easy.”
You might have blown right past it, as we so often do with quotes like this, thinking that it was just one more motivational platitude, another “rise and grind” simplicity that doesn’t apply to you or your reality.
I hear you. I hate most of those, too.
But this idea, when you take the time to examine it and give it some perspective, is true. More than that, it is powerful, as in, it has the power to change your life.
I have learned, through my personal experience which was hard won through much failure and pain, that this quote is true. I invested most of my time, energy, money and life into doing the easy thing for the first 30 years that I was alive. I avoided what was hard at all costs.
Until I couldn’t anymore.
Until one more hangover was no longer an option. Until the physical pain of the abuse I was putting my body through was no longer an option. Until going through the motions of life without actually living was so hollow and terrible that I could imagine no other choice than to finally face the things I had been running from for so long.
Until I had to start actually doing the hard things.
And this is when I learned that those “hard things” were actually so much easier. I no longer had to invest all of my time, energy, money and life into running away. Standing and facing is actually easier than running -- even if it doesn’t seem that way at the outset. And not only was I free from having to work so hard to avoid the things I was afraid of, I was also now free to actually live the life I’d wanted all along, and that was easier, too.
For me, the “hard things” I had to turn around and face were my drug and alcohol problems, which themselves were a result of me running from other, even harder things. I had chosen the “easy things,” over and over, until they grew out of control and became hard things themselves.
What was I running from? A thousand monsters in the closet: a fear of failure, a fear of success, a deep and poisoning self-hatred that threatened to infect every moment of every day, a repulsive negativity that was the only defense I could find for the terrible choices I made over and over (“It wasn’t my fault! It was your fault, it was the world -- everyone is against me!” We all know this story, it’s the one we tell ourselves in our darkest hours).
For me, I stopped running a little over ten years ago.
For me, it started on a terrible morning when I had my last hangover. People always ask me how I got sober, what technique or treatment helped me to change the trajectory I had been barreling down for so long. Here it is, in all its imperfect and awful glory: I stood in a full-length mirror for three hours and talked to myself, outloud, about how I would never, ever, ever waste another day of my life like this.
I literally faced the thing that I had been running from forever: myself.
Being myself -- completely, authentically, vulnerably, imperfectly -- is the hard thing I was avoiding at all costs. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is terrifying and it is bottomless and it is frustrating and it never ends.
And it is STILL easier than everything I did to avoid doing it!
Being honest that I am not now and never will be perfect, that I am just doing the best I can, that sometimes my best completely sucks, that I still have to get up tomorrow and do my best again, that I can’t lie about who I am or what I have learned and that I have to fight for the rest of my life to share it with you as honestly as I can because everything depends upon all of us learning to face our hard things -- THAT is hard.
(And throughout my journey to doing the hard things I used exercise as a way to show myself, in a very real and physical way, the hard things I was capable of doing. Having a physical discipline is hard and it makes life easier.)
And it is also easier than getting high and drunk and waking up each morning full of a thick sludge of regret that hangs out in your gut all day. It is easier than trying to bury your fear of failure under Netflix, cheap takeout, online shopping, mindless social media scrolling, gossip, empty relationships, petty meanness, jobs that are beneath you even if they are safe, interpersonal drama or any of the other hundred things that we all create to avoid the things that frighten us.
A little over a decade ago I woke up and made a different choice; I picked the hard thing for once.
And I picked the hard thing again the next day, and the next and for lots of days after that. And it was hard. It was hard to get broken up with in a bar and not order a drink. It was hard to say to myself, “it’s too bad I don’t drink anymore because now I just have to feel these feelings of not being good enough.” It was hard to go to parties and dance and make new friends and to just leave the house without something between me and the world.
And it was also beautiful.
It is beautiful to have feelings. To see the world, and myself, as they are with no filters. To experience and engage and be alive. It is so beautiful that I have no words for it, I just know that I never, ever, ever want to have anything separate me from my life again.
I know that I will spend the rest of my time in this world fighting to be as present and awake and alive as I can so that I can experience every single aspect of this gift (and that includes the hard parts) including my responsibility to tell this true, ugly, embarrassing story about myself over and over and over so that anyone who needs it will hear it and be able to use it.
So that anyone who is feeling stuck or trapped or frustrated and knows deep down that there is more to them and to life, and that it could all be theirs if only they could break out of the stuck spot, can start to do just one hard thing because they see that if I could make the hard choice after so much cowardice and avoidance and ugliness that surely they can, too.
And even though I am not ashamed of my life or my mistakes or this journey I am on that doesn’t mean that telling this story is easy. It isn’t -- it’s hard, too. And a lot of me wants to run away from telling it, but I have learned that choosing the hard things always, inevitably, is the right thing to do because it impacts ourselves and those around us in ways we never could have expected. Yes, especially when we don't want to do it!
All of that is the story of how I started to choose doing the hard things, so that the rest of my life would be easy. And why I keep choosing the hard things again and again. But that’s not the whole story. The whole story is this:
First, the things we think are “easy” are actually harder to do than the things that we perceive as “hard.”
Being drunk or high seems easy but takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of work and money and energy to chase a high, to procure the substance, to use just the right amount, to not get sick, to manage yourself the next day, to clean up all the messes that you inevitably create (literally and figuratively), to avoid getting fired for calling in sick again, to deal with your friends and family, to think of creative lies, to not forget which lie you told, to look people in the eye without really looking them in the eye, to screw up and lose anything good that tries to happen to you in spite of all this destruction you are sowing, to fix your hair in the mirror while avoiding making eye contact with yourself ...this list goes on forever.
It is so much easier to turn and face what we are running from, no matter what it is. It is easier, even if it is scary. Even if we think we can’t do it. We can do it. And once we do it, if even only for a few seconds at a time at first, we realize that it is so easy -- it’s just taking a breath and being willing to take the next breath.
Second, the “easy” life we think we are choosing is so hard in comparison to living in a real and engaged way that I would never in a million years choose to go back to it.
I will meditate for hours, I will walk through a blizzard to get to the gym to do my deadlifts, I will get up at 6 am every day to write in my journal, I will be honest with my therapist, I will have the hard conversations, I will admit that I was wrong or that I made a mistake -- I will do all these things and people will say things like “you’re obsessed with working out!” or “you’re so brave!” or “I could never do that!” and I know that none of those are true, even if you believe it right now, because I know the alternative is so much worse and so much harder that doing these things is, relatively, a breeze.
Third, I understand that this choice to do the “hard” things first so that the rest of my life is easier, is a matter of payment. You’re going to pay. You get to decide two things: when and how much?
For decades I chose the “easy” way. I chose to run and hide and do things to avoid what I was afraid of. And my body and my mind and my heart paid the price. By the time I got sober I was in so much physical pain, I could barely walk up a flight of stairs without my knees screaming at me. Today I’m 41 and I do things that I couldn’t even imagine when I was 18; I lift heavy and I sprint fast and I ride my bike hauling all my camping gear for hundreds of miles.
Before I was living on layaway. I picked the “easy” things to do up front and then I paid later with pain. And I paid heavily. Now I pay up front, with time in the gym, for ease of movement and the ability to do the things I want that make me feel free as a bird. Before, I picked avoidance because it was “easy” and then I paid later with anxiety, anger, self-hatred, disappointment, depression, failed relationships, hollow friendships and an aimless life. That is a heavy price. Now, I pay up front with honesty and vulnerability and acceptance and awareness and my life is easy. My life is real and connected and deep and full of rich experiences and incredible people. Because I choose to pay now rather than later, which it turns out, is also the cheaper option (because interest).
And lastly, I choose the “hard” things because it is my job now to make you feel less alone.
I love that Les Brown quote, because it is true, but even more I love this quote from Glennon Doyle because it reminds me of the biggest reason why I chose to do the hard things:
“These things will be hard to do but we can do hard things.”
We can do hard things. Me and you. All of us, together, can do more hard things than we could apart, more hard things than we ever thought possible, enough hard things that we can all live easier lives.
Realer lives. More connected lives. Truer lives. More just lives
That’s the kind of life I want, how about you?
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Ready to do something “hard” so your life can be easier? My FREE 6 week #makeithappenworkout challenge starts Monday July 23rd!
You can download the FREE workouts HERE.
Then join me and other brave folks in cheering each other on and proving to ourselves that we can stay consistent with exercise over the summer, that we can be creative with where and how we get it done, that we can drop “perfect” because #gettingitdonegetsitdone!
Check it out HERE!