Simple, But Not Easy

When I was 23, I was pretty sure I knew more than most people. In my own mind, I was so damn wise — so informed, and intelligent. I simply didn’t have the time to waste listening to the advice of others. I was on my own path to greatness — or so I thought.

So imagine my surprise when, within a year’s time, it all came crashing down around me. I found myself way off of the path I thought I was on. I had been kicked out of grad school, I was forced to move to an unfamiliar place, with people I didn’t know. I had no job, and no money, and no idea what I was going to do with myself.

Luckily, it was at that time that I started to listen to the advice of others. There is one piece of advice that sticks with me to this day — one that I will bring up in conversation every once in a while.

There is a difference between simple and easy. Do not confuse the two.

You see, “simple” means the opposite of “complicated”. Simple means “easily or readily understood”. But what it doesn’t mean is “easy to implement”. In fact, an add-on to that piece of advice above is this:

The simpler the thing is to understand, often the more difficult it is to do.

Here’s an example. You’ve probably heard someone say “always be honest”. That’s simple. It’s hard to imagine a principle any simple than that. It’s also hard to imagine a principle that is more difficult to actually follow in practice. Think of all of the times when honesty seems to be detrimental to your goals, when it will prove inconvenient, when it will set you back. Given our usual motivations, it’s incredibly difficult to be honest all of the time.

Here’s another example: be true to yourself. That is pretty damned simple, right? Just be who you are, don’t put on airs, come to grips with your feelings, desires, and values. Be true to those things your actions. Don’t second-guess yourself, don’t be afraid, be boldly you. Again, It’s hard to think of something that is more difficult to do than that. And yet, it’s so easy to understand.

These days, I’m a lot more humble about what I know and what I don’t. I am sure that I know very little, and I try (but keep on failing) to act accordingly. I seek out all of the advice that I can get.

When I succeed at being humble, I receive more valuable insights. When I remember that the simple things I have heard about are also very difficult things, I’m a little easier on myself, and in turn, on others.

So I guess I would urge everyone to embrace the simple — for living simply holds great rewards. But whatever you do, do not expect it to be easy.

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