I’ve been talking to clients even more lately about suffering, and hard work, and what it takes to be successful. First of all, there’s the definition of success that we’re frequently leaving unclear and up to others, so let’s clear that up:

Success is achieving something meaningful that you desire.

A lot of us believe that you always have to work hard to get what you want. It’s so given that we don’t even realize it’s a belief. It’s the air we breathe in our culture–as long you’re willing to work hard, you can make amazing things happen. I don’t know about you, but that statement, even when it energizes me, exhausts me.

On the other hand, there is another set of beliefs, especially in the personal growth and self-help world, that says, if something doesn’t feel like ease to you, then don’t do it. Do whatever feels like ease. This is also exhausting in its own way–in that it only energizes you to do the things that feel easy to you. Then your beautiful brain comes up with some big idea that you know will involve some amount of un-ease and um, work, and you think, “well if I’m following the rule of ease, then how the hell is this actually going to get done?”

Because of those twin experiences–being energized and exhausted, caught in the war between working hard and hardly working–creative perfectionists tend to wildly swing between nose-to-grindstone suffering disguised as “hard work” and self-pitying indolence disguised as “going with the flow.”

Hyperbole and a half has covered this pretty well–you decide now is the time to get your life or work or project together and you manage to crank out, oh several hours of decent, honest, hard work, and then the part of you that knows it’s not sustainable jumps in the minute things don’t go quite right, or you feel tired or hungry, helpfully jumps in and tells you now would be a good time to binge-watch that show you’ve always been meaning to.

But sometimes, it’s not about what feels easy or hard–that dichotomy misses the point. Sometimes it’s worth it to work hard. Sometimes its worth it to work easy (or not at all, aka rest and experience the fruits of your labor). How do you ditch the war?

This is where satisfaction comes in to save the day. Instead of asking yourself if you are willing to work hard or go easy for any given goal, ask yourself:

What would satisfaction look like? What would be satisfying to do or experience? What would satisfying on a soul-level, not just on a “this would impress other people and boy, that would be satisfying” level?

Hard work can feel really satisfying, as can practice, structure, and habits. Especially if you’re not making it a form of punishment for your lack of worthiness. In fact, only then can hard work feel good. It won’t feel good if you’re just using it as a tool of your own guilt/unworthiness to make you feel bad. Hard work feels good when you use it to satisfy your desires and goals. 

I’m not going to tell you that, once you decide to create or make something real, that suddenly everything falls into place. That fiction of ease and “meant to be” is just another way that perfectionism stomps all over doing the damn thing and replaces it with, do the thing but only if you can do it perfectly (whether it’s perfectly easily or perfectly in the spite of great difficulty). Instead, use the guideposts of satisfaction to guide you. If I do this thing, will it be satisfying? Even if it doesn’t turn out exactly the way I envision it? Will the process be satisfying? Even if it’s hard? Even if it’s easy?

Follow your satisfaction–it will lead you where you want to go.