Discover more from Where the Map Ends by Kyra Evans
A letter about ease (for all of us overthinkers)
This week I find myself thinking about ease.
I am the opposite of easy – I am what most people would call “uptight”.
I enter every situation with:
Worries about how the plan will work
Strong suspicion it won’t
Intrusive thoughts about hyperbolized repercussions of the plan not working
Concerns about what everyone else is thinking about my plan
Rigid protection of the plan / desire to shape reality to meet expectations
Sense of impending doom since reality rarely meets expectations
Exhaustion from all of the above
As you can imagine, living like this feels hard.
It’s rare for me to find a moment when I feel truly relaxed. And frankly? I’m tired of it.
So, for this month’s letter, I set out to explore why it’s so darned hard for some of us to make things easy. It’s unearthed some interesting observations that I’d like to share with you.
Ease and Fear
Particularly in western culture, ease is emotionally charged.
Think about it: While the noun “ease” may make you feel warm and fuzzy, its related adjective “easy” may stir up the opposite feelings.
When we introduce greater ease into our lives, we also risk:
When things are easy for us, we fear that others might get jealous (“Easy for you to say!”). Studies have proven that people create deeper bonds by discussing mutual dislike than discussing personal wins. Misery loves company, and commiserating over how hard you’re working is common social currency.
When we choose an easier path, we fear that we may be perceived as lazy (“He took the easy way out!”). As I mentioned in a previous letter, we learned early from the Ant and the Grasshopper that to be lazy is to risk not only social reproach, but also a cruel death when we later pay for the work we so hastily neglected.
Making life easier by doing less may diminish our social status. Research out of Columbia University has shown that people who look busy (for example, using a Bluetooth headset for multitasking) are perceived as being “important and impressive”. Those who do less (ironically, something that in actuality tends to denote greater success in life) are perceived as less important.
While we all want easier lives, people generally don’t respond well to others who benefit from easier circumstances.
There’s a lot of shame around ease, making it desirable in theory but scary to adopt in practice.
The belief that ease is socially unacceptable has ripple effects.
Not only does it compel us to remain busier than we need to be, but I suspect it even affects how we listen to each other and engage in conversation.
You see, when we need to ensure that everyone else knows how hard things are for us, we not only do the work that is hard but we also act in a way that proves that we are doing this work.
For example: I often feel exhausted after socializing. Some of this is simply the result of being an introvert. But a while back, I watched a TikTok that really blew my mind right open on this topic.
In it, creator Ariel Niu talks about the energy that we bring with us into social interactions. She discusses the ways in which we perform our engagement and listening, in addition to actually doing the engaging and listening.
When I enter a conversation, I bring this RAZZLE DAZZLE tap dance energy with me. I feel compelled to make other people laugh. I make intense eye contact. I nod my head enthusiastically.
It’s not enough for me to just be there – I feel I must demonstrate how engaged I am; to show the other person that I’m working hard at being involved.
Is Intensity Optional? A Lesson from Gen Z
One point that Niu mentions at the end of the video is particularly interesting to me.
“If you can present yourself genuinely, but open and friendly and chill, you’re setting the stage for everyone else to also be chill. I think Gen Z’s and younger know this a bit more,” she says. “But millennials and over, we just feel like whenever we enter a social setting, we need to be this SOCIAL PERSON. Our energy needs to be up here. We have to be very gracious. Like ‘Oh my gosh! Yeah! I’m having so much fun!”
Friends. It’s SO TRUE.
Not only am I parenting a Gen Z’er (and thus have a front row seat to their energy) but I can also see this in the workshops I’ve led.
Many of you know that I teach corporate mindfulness workshops, in which I work with a department (or an entire company) online or in-person to introduce and help implement mindfulness practices at work.
Most often, I’m teaching executive leadership groups (C-suite), who are typically Gen X and older. These students make consistent eye contact with me. They take notes. They jump to ask engaged questions. They sit up straight and nod enthusiastically as I talk.
By contrast, last year I led a workshop for a tech startup with a predominantly Gen Z team. These people were so laid back. They sat slumped in their chairs. I received no nods during the entirety of my 2.5 hour talk. I struggled to fill the time I’d set aside for questions because so few people asked any.
At the end of my workshop, I said my thank-you’s and started to pack up. I felt deflated, like I’d failed to give the rousing presentation I was accustomed to providing.
But as I tucked my laptop into my bag, an audience member approached me to give her heartfelt thanks.
“This was so helpful for me. I really struggle with anxiety and these practices will make such a difference.”
Following her, another person approached.
“I go to the gym every morning and I think that would be a great place to practice.”
Two more came up to me before I left.
I was shocked. As it turned out, they had been listening the whole time. They just hadn’t felt the need to prove to me that they were listening.
A Lesson in Less
In a fantastic article for Maclean’s, Gen Z’er Stephanie Bai writes,
“My cohort’s refusal to give our all to work may stem from a recognition that our lives, and our futures, don’t look like those of past generations. The classic milestones of adulthood—home ownership, financial stability, a comfortable retirement—all seem wildly out of reach.
What we want from work is intimately tied to what we want for our lives. If the financial rewards of our work won’t open the same doors for us, if we don’t have the opportunities that generations before us had, why should we work the way they did?”
Whether ease comes naturally to you or not, Gen Z is showing us that ease is possible. Since they’re less tied to tradition and more open to new ideas, they’re not afraid to sift through the way things have always been done, and delete the parts that aren’t working.
“My generation values work-life balance over hustle culture,” Bai writes. “You call it lazy. We call it smart.”
Gen Z is proving to us that sometimes the areas of our lives that feel the most difficult only feel that way because we’ve opted into participating in a dynamic that’s unnecessary to our overall effectiveness. They’re showing us that it’s okay to pick and choose what works for you.
Resistance and Ease
Mindfulness tells us that the difficulties we experience in life are primarily the result of resisting what is.
When I enter a situation with a plan (and my laundry list of overthinking points), only to find that the reality differs from my expectation, I chafe. I fret. And I try to “fix” reality to better align with how I wanted it to be.
I place the burden of adjusting reality on my shoulders. And I’m disappointed when yet again this proves to be an impossible task.
What if instead I took a page out of Gen Z’s book and decided that fixing every little detail in my life to accord with my planned reality is a job that’s above my pay grade?
In the words of my own Gen Z’er, Juniper:
“We’ve grown up with climate change and the pandemic. We know that life can change fast, and that bad things happen. So we’re kind of like: Why not make things easy and fun in the meantime?”
Amen, my friend.
Life’s too short for unpaid labour that yields no results.
In thinking about ease through this lens, I’m reminded of something a friend shared with me a few years ago:
Ease is an energy rather than a state of affairs.
I’ve mistakenly spent my life reversing the chicken-egg of this paradox, believing that things will be easier for me when I finally encounter easier circumstances.
But this just isn’t true.
As it turns out, an uptight person (me) can make the easiest circumstances feel harder. And an easygoing person can make even the hardest things feel light.
If we believe this as fact, then ease becomes something we can shift into voluntarily, consciously, regardless of what’s happening externally.
We don’t need to wait for the world to change before approaching the circumstances of our lives with the energy of ease.
We can (and perhaps should) bring the energy of ease with us into our most difficult circumstances, allowing it to tease apart the gnarled pathways of our former understandings and stretch out in the space it creates.
We can give ourselves permission to ask, “What would it look like to approach this situation with ease?” and see what answers come up. Notice how your shoulders relax just from asking the question.
As I sift through my life and remove anything that’s needlessly complicated, my main focus will be releasing the tendency to look busy.
The fact is that I’m terrified of other people seeing me experience ease. This is what lies at the heart of my most unnecessary burden-of-proof behaviours; the tap dance I perform for those around me that begs them to like me because I’m working hard.
I fear the judgement of others more than I’d like to admit. Perhaps in writing about this topic I’m even asking your permission to dial back a bit. Or maybe I’m rallying your support, hoping you’ll do the same.
I want my life to be well considered. Full of the things that bring me joy (especially the little things) and empty of unnecessary burdens. I want to create space in my life and relinquish the need to fill it with anything else.
I want to create space and just let it be spacious.
It may not be easy peasy. But I think it will be worth it.
Sending you so, so much love.
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