My parents are rolling over in their graves right about now, since I’m questioning their core survival teaching, and have been for a while. That “working hard is what good people do, and if it’s hard work, then all the better. Do that, and you’ll be successful”. The reflective lighting here is good at my age, where I find myself more able to assess the fruits of my own hard work over time. It’s clearly not quite that simple, because for a lot of people, working hard has just stopped working.
I’ve been a reasonably obedient, roll up your sleeves type, and in many ways still am, so there’s a lot of material to sift through, in hindsight. Yet what’s born the juiciest fruit of personal success for me continues to be those creative endeavours that while I work away at them, the quickly passing hours go pretty much unnoticed. It feels easy, not without challenges, but easy. There is nothing hard about being in flow with work – it feels good, and it feels right.
My parents would have labeled what I do, hard work, because that’s what it looks like from the outside looking in – you know, consistent, focused effort offered over time. They would have found the joy part of my work to be window dressing, not essential, and that’s where things have changed. From the hereafter, I vaguely hear the distant tutting of their disappointment over the net worth of my actual fruit count, and the fact that in their minds, their hard graft theory has somehow run amok, where I’m concerned. But then, they weren’t intent on being in flow with work – their ‘foolproof’ tactic reckoned that you work hard for the money, not for the contribution. So I’m already riffing on dangerous turf, playing with their teachings by esteeming contribution over money. But it has to be said that a lot of hard working people, even ones who want to, and will do, anything for money, have similarly lighter weight baskets than expected for their efforts, some of them getting lighter by the minute. One can’t help but notice that the mechanics of true success is shifting.
The difference between the chaotic times we find ourselves in now and the equally chaotic, but totally different times when hard work seemed to do the trick, is that our parents’ world was a post-survivalist period that thrived on the notion of rebuilding. They were phoenixes rising from the depression and two world wars in an ashy world needing a lot of darn good sweepers. In contrast, we’re now in reverse phoenix mode, sifting through the ash of ideals that were never meant to have an eternal shelf life. Why? Because maybe, just maybe, life isn’t supposed to be so hard. If we rethink using words that describe that that’s how it is, our self-fulfilling prophecy powers might stop proving us right.
We’re in a transformative period.
Many of us are starting to see the writing on the wall, that we must change our ways – now, and radically, and if we don’t, it will be at our own peril. Do, or die for my parents had a more literal, in-your-face meaning. Working hard was a means of sidestepping the tremendous burden of having experienced separation, fear, and the inconceivably vile expressions of man’s inhumanity to one another during the last world war. Changing the world wasn’t on their radar; living through it was, as was thriving again. Working hard worked. It not only got things done, it was a means to push through, and to numb emotional pain. You could rest on your laurels, or the handgrip of your shovel, but only after you’d done something to make things better.
Becoming ‘do’ers, and cheering other ‘do’ers on had a sedative effect, and it has been a painkiller that’s continued to drip into our collective gene pool, with putrefying, stagnating results. For that reason, the drip lacks the same anesthetizing ability in these new times, and working hard is not the failsafe solution it once was. In a transforming world, that’s just the point. We’re not meant to numb down using any means anymore, hard work included. We’re meant to evolve, and evolution doesn’t come without discomfort. We’re meant to feel all manner of things, and through feeling, regain a compassionate connection to our authentic selves that can’t help but extend to others who we’ll finally comprehend, are inextricably connected with us, and always were. Then the work we’ll begin to do will be about ease of contribution and the joy in wanting to contribute to the greater good – nothing hard about it. It will be about our work unfolding in flow, and perhaps even the word work will be replaced by a word like, mission. We’ll begin to understand that any contribution for the greater good is a great contribution, and it is worthy without needing to be quantified, as proof.
This collectively disturbed sensibility growing on the planet that something is not quite right, not even vaguely logical about how so many of us find ourselves spinning hard-working wheels in the muck, and not quite bearing the variety of fruit we need, can appear depressing. But, I’m convinced that this is just the necessary uncomfortable bit, before the sun finally peaks out from the large patch of sooty cloud under which so many people in one way or another, are finding themselves temporarily overshadowed. We’ve been on a train speeding out of control, and in an act of grace, we’re being saved by an act of physics. The rumbling of our discontent is urging the Universe to throw on the brakes. And although the wheels are wildly sparking, and the squeal of metal on metal with no buffer is nerve-wracking, the good news is that in slowing down, we can finally get the heck off of Crazy Train. We can reassess the very nature of work as it applies to our very nature. We can get meaningful work to work again, meaningfully.
I’m not suggesting that we’re heading into an interim period marked by a spike in supine-positioned bonbon eating, since hard work isn’t cutting it for many.
I’m saying that contributions offered in flow, synchronous with our values, talents, preferences, and applied with a sense of humility, is where we’re being beckoned, if current global circumstances are any indicator. Every do what you love and money will come-type, like myself, who’ve been practicing this paradigm shift for quite some time now, have experienced rough patches. They come from uninvited old conditioning revisiting, rearing all too credible-seeming dinosaur heads, eroding hope by instilling doubt that the love/work combo can ever making a profitable marriage, when held up against our out-dated yard stick for measuring such things.
Looking towards the profitability of hard work, in the most widely accepted sense of why we work in the first place, is barking up a different tree, not a better tree, and certainly not a more evolved tree, and is simply a bi-product of being in flow anyway. But the profitability of the way it feels to tap into one’s essence, where the creative sap endlessly flows – where fear of using yourself up doesn’t exist because you’ve connected with an eternal wellspring – now that’s something from which to truly profit. Getting to the wellspring more of the time, freeing our selves of weighty, long defunct conditioning is shaping up to look like the new work for many of us. And for obvious reasons, while I hesitate to use the word, hard, having had quite some experience wading towards the coveted downstream flow myself and at times losing my footing, it ain’t been easy. So I won’t false advertise. I will say that paddling trumps wading for ease, any day. And that in having tasted the sweetness of following my heart, while it’s not been the meal I initially expected, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I’m still very much in the canoe trying hold the paddle with a firm but light touch, reminding myself not to grasp but to trust, and I don’t suspect that that will change any time soon.
So, when hard work fails to produce the desired result, in that raw, stripped down place that leaves us scratching our heads in bewilderment, or even reeling from despair, take comfort in the fact that the tricky patch has a very bright, much easier-going other side. And head down-stream.
May we paddle with the flow much more of the time.
May we trust that the flow knows where it’s going even when we’re not so sure.