The Work Will Show You How
Or, wise sayings from other people that I've collected over the years
I always feel that the year really begins in September, when school starts up again, and not in January. But it just so happens that I find myself, here at the turning from dark into light, on the cusp of the new calendar year, loaded with bits of wisdom I’ve been collecting over the years. My adage cup is about to run over, and so I thought the start of 2023 was the right time to set those adages down in an organized fashion.
1. Begin as you mean to go on.
I came across this one a few years ago, just as I was about to move into a new house for the first time in 21 years—a house I would be moving into as a single person. I was (and am) excited about expressing my true social side (I once made a friend almost fall off her chair when I mused “I don’t know: I think I’m an extrovert?”), and so I began my tenure in the new house with a party, and another and another soon after that. The lesson? Once you start off in a particular mode, it’s much easier to take that as your established mode, and easier to just keep that going. You’re not starting from inertia every time.
2. The work will show you how.
Credit goes here to Frank Lessard, father of my sister-from-another-mother Kelley Lessard. Kelley and I must have been in the midst of one of the numerous projects we’ve given each other a hand for (her mudroom shelving, my waist-high-weedy garden) when she said this to me. It’s true: you begin to do something, and as you work, the work itself—and your body’s reaction to it—shows you how to accomplish it. Your grip on the tool adapts for better leverage. Your posture alters to let you use the best muscles. You take something apart and in its disassembly come to understand how to repair it. The lesson? Don’t fear the work. Don’t be daunted by the difficulty of the undertaking. Begin, and as you work, you will learn what you need to do.
3. Let it be easy.
At a cycling hotel last spring, my husband and I struck up a conversation with two fellow cyclists (one of whom was named Cheryl) as we waited for our rented bikes to be adjusted by the hotel’s equipment organizer. After three days of hilly riding, we all signed up for a challenging ride and were joking about our imminent suffering. “Let it be easy,” Cheryl said. The lesson: Even with something difficult, there’s bound to be some aspect that’s easy. Look for that ease. Don’t shroud the easy piece with intimidating difficulty of the whole experience. If you keep your eyes on that easy piece, chances are you’ll find the whole thing gets less daunting.
4. We’re in a hurry. Slow down.
This sounds like a clever way to say “haste makes waste” but it’s more than that. I first heard it in the context of mountain biking, when my husband said “Smooth is slow and slow is fast” as he tried to convince me I should ride my bike over tree trunks and rocks and stone walls (maybe I needed to let it be easy). Go smoothly, he was trying to say, and don’t feel you have to rush, and you’ll end up going faster (which = better in this context). More recently, I heard the phrase in the “we’re in a hurry, slow down” version while skiing with a guide. My group’s guide Donny had to marshal seven skiers sitting at the summit of a volcano, in a sixty-mile-an-hour wind. We had to take the climbing skins off our skis and pack them away and put the skis on our boots one by one, without losing any equipment to the wind or down the ice-hard slope of the volcano’s upper cone. “We’re in a hurry,” he said. “Slow down.” If any one of us had rushed, there was a good chance we’d have lost a skin or a ski. The lesson here was that by being careful and mindful, we could move efficiently and take care of the task we urgently needed to accomplish.
5. Stop looking for what you want and see what there is.
I love this one. It comes from that same ski guide, Donny Roth, and it’s stuck with me since I first heard him say it last September. Donny was telling us about his experience building a tiny home in Chile. He described going to a lumber yard with a particular kind of wood on his shopping list, a particular length or width, and not finding it. Initially, he was frustrated at not finding what he wanted, and then he realized: stop looking for the thing you think you want and just see what there is. Looking around the lumberyard, he saw what was on hand and found a way to make use of that. Of course, this applies to so much, and it’s a great reminder that sometimes we can lead ourselves astray by focusing on the one thing we have identified as the perfect solution, the perfect goal. Better to take a minute to look around and see what there is, what’s available, and make use of that.
These sayings have something in common, it seems to me. You can group them together into a world view—and maybe their adherence to this view is what has made them stick in my mind in the first place.
Take the time to look around, find the ease, find the resources that are already all around you, and embark on the work that you will learn how to accomplish as you go. And why not get started with that mindset right now, at the start of the calendar year, and then keep going on like that?
What’s your favorite bit of wisdom? Add your own adage in the comments!
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