“Life is difficult.” That’s the start of M Scott Peck’s brilliant book The Road Less Traveled. I agree strongly. And I disagree strongly too. That life is difficult, says Peck, “is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
I think Peck goes too far. I will argue that life is difficult, even if you accept fully that it is difficult. It is difficult not because it is difficult – though it often is – but because we humans have a genius for making it difficult. And we have that genius because we are lost, strangers in a strange world.
I will also argue that life can be easy, or at least a lot easier than we make it.
And finally, I’ll argue that business is both difficult and remarkably easy too.
So let me explain.
Life is Difficult
I agree with Peck. Life is difficult because we expect it to be easy. We are always moaning about setbacks or burdens, “as if life should be easy.” But life is a series of problems. We either moan about them or we overcome them.
So far, so good. But I also think that life is intractably difficult because we think that we can make it easy, by changing our circumstances. We look for the magic bullet, and the magic bullet always fails to do the trick. We imagine that everything will be fine if we fall in love, or get the right job, or make a big stinking pile of money, or achieve professional success. But the figures show, for example, that newly-wed couples are much happier, in most cases, immediately before they get married, and that it is all downhill from there. After a couple of years they are no happier than they were before.
This is a perfect illustration that life is difficult, and that it becomes more difficult once we expect it to be easy. In my experience nothing is more difficult than living with another person, and the more you love them, the harder it is. Everyone fights with their spouses. So if we expect it to be easy, we are going to be disillusioned. The same with starting a new job, living in a new town, even living in a new dream home. But if we say to ourselves, this is going to be truly worthwhile, but initially it will be hard – then it becomes a lot easier. When problems and pitfalls roll along – as they will – we are prepared for them, and can work constructively around them. We can take pride in our skill in working around the difficulties, instead of moaning that they are not fair. And we should also expect that the things that give us most pleasure are also going to be the things that give us the most pain. To expect otherwise is to reckon without life’s depths, the deep waters that are hard to swim in but make living really worthwhile.
So far, Peck is 100 percent right. But …
Life doesn’t have to be so difficult
There are two ways that we can make life much easier for ourselves and the people around us. The first way is to use the 80/20 principle, and change our circumstances:
When I ask people how their lives could be improved by removing difficulties, I am always struck by two things. One is, how many of these problems are actually people. The second amazing thing is that the list of monster problems is usually very short. Remove these frustrations, and life becomes a lot sweeter. Use the 80/20 principle to identify the few things that cause nearly all the problems. Then remove the problems.
But, sadly, that is not enough. Changing our circumstances takes us a long way, but not the whole way. So we need to use the 80/20 principle again – but to do something a bit harder.
That is to change ourselves.
Not easy. But, again, the list of things most of us need to change is also remarkably short. To continue my earlier list:
Business is Difficult
The evidence is clear-cut:
Business is Not Difficult
There is a formula that hugely multiplies the chances of success. It’s also a very easy and simple formula, with only three moving parts:
Life is difficult.
Life is not difficult.
Business is difficult.
Business is not difficult.
If you find my blogs interesting or useful, please share them with a friend, leave a comment, or follow me on Twitter @RichardKoch8020