Monday Postcard #104 – When Everything Looks Easy
“But for you it is easy. You are so good at it. I could never do that.”
It is an art to make difficult things look like easy. Women are trained to cover up their hard work from a very early age onwards. We are told to be modest. If somebody congratulates us on a success, we tend to answer “I was lucky”, no matter how much effort and time we invested to achieve it. Hence, we are constantly undermining ourselves. In our jobs, in our personal life, even when it comes to our bodies. (My favourite: “I can eat whatever I want, somehow I just do not gain weight.”, coming from a woman who carefully monitors her calorie intake and exercises regularly.)
I adopted the strategy of making everything look easy very early in my career. I realised that while men boast about how hard they work and how many hours they put it (even if they do not), women are belittled if we say how much time we had to spend. It is immediately associated with being slow, dumb or lazy. Hence, I always only focused on getting the job done quickly, without any mistakes and focussed on the next task.
The problem with this strategy is that other people do not see how hard we worked do not appreciate it. Just because I can fix a problem quickly, does not mean that it was an easy fix. I worked hard to acquire the skills to be able to solve the problem quickly. I did not lean back and say “I cannot do it.” and hired somebody else or asked a teammate.
Over the years, I have learned to accept compliments about my work and just say “Thank you”, instead of talking my achievements down. But instead of now being belittled for my effort, I experience a different phenomenon: I keep hearing that for me, everything is “easy”. Running a business is easy because I have been doing it for a while. Moving is easy because I have done it before. Learning languages is easy because I speak many.
Most people probably mean it as a compliment. But I feel that this type of comments undermines my effort, skills and willpower. I am a problem solver. This is what I do every single day as a business owner. Just because it has become somehow normal to not give in to being overwhelmed, pull myself together, find a solution and not show how hard it is, it does not mean it is easy.
And let me tell you something: I did not think that I would be able to do many things either. But very often, I do not have a choice. If you start a business, you have to be able to take over many roles and learn fast. If you do not, it will be easy to take you for a ride. And unless you have a big investment backing you from the start, you will have to do many tasks by yourself. (Even if you do have external funding, you will not be able to just throw many at problems.) I had to teach myself so many things I would have never thought I could do: web design, photography and videography including editing, I had to dive into different schools of law, expand my finance skills – to just name a few. At the same time, a business owner needs to motivate their team: How would they react if I said “I cannot do this.”? Would they be inspired to work for me? I doubt it. The people we admire are the ones with a “can do”-attitude who inspire others to give their best as well.
Have I ever thought “I cannot do this!”? Yes, absolutely! Have I given up? No. Did I then make a big deal out of it? No. I got it done and moved on. It probably looks easy from the outside.
I even see this in my personal life. Coming back to the example of moving to a new city: It is definitely not easy to start from scratch. Every time I moved – very often on my own – I had to adapt to a new city and make new friends. Just because I got used to it, does not mean it is easy. Similarly, I am being called a “language genius”. I love learning languages. And probably I have some talent. But I am quoting my former piano teacher here: “You may be talented. But talent makes up for 2%, the rest is hard work.” The secret to learning languages seemingly easily is discipline: I go to class, take notes, revise them at home and do the homework. This has got nothing to do with being a “language genius”. The secret is to not whine and just try it. In my Thai class, I got to meet people from so many different backgrounds. For some, it is the first language they ever learned. Some are already retired. Some did not go to university. Do they give up? No. They keep digging it and everybody can see that they are getting better every week.
There is no “I cannot do it.” without even trying. It is a convenient excuse to just say that and have somebody else take over the task. When I try to solve problems, I always try to find a way to solve it myself before I ask somebody else. Even if I cannot find a solution, I at least know what I am talking about and make it easier for those who help me. It would be easier just to dump the problem on someone else and pester them until they solved it for me. No matter if it is your professional or personal life. The secret is discipline and persistence. Furthermore, it is also respect for others: claiming to be unable to do it is very often just an excuse to be lazy. There is almost nothing which you cannot find online. Ask Google and Youtube for advice. It might take you a while to get it done, but I am sure you CAN DO IT.
One last thing: please stop saying “It’s easy for you.” – even if you mean it as a compliment. This is not a compliment! You basically undermine hard work. Try saying “Congrats, you worked hard for it.” next time.