Hard or Easy?

Is being a copywriter hard or easy for you?

I ask because over the past couple of weeks, I tried a contrarian experiment on myself. I did something that goes against almost every bit of advice about constructive self-talk.

I modeled the experiment on a recent experience. After I came back from camping a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by how well I had handled myself even though the experience was difficult. My last camping trip was 15 years ago, and so I expected to be rusty, struggle with basic skills, and be easily worn out.

I was conscious of it being hard, but I did really well at it. Tents got pitched, fires got started, small children got carried up and down mountains, and I thrived. So, when I got back in my office, I tried an experiment in self-talk.

I said, “Brian, your work is really hard. It’s going to take a lot of effort to get everything done and you’re really going to have to put some hours into your work.”

I kept up that self-talk for about a week.

Then I decided to try something different. This Monday, I sat down and told myself another story.

“Brian,” I said, “your job is easy as pie. You’re not digging ditches or chasing criminals. You have a few projects this week, they’ll be easy to complete, you can take Thursday and Friday off, and you’ll be fine.”

In my little self-talk experiment, what do you think I discovered?

Each of us has a storyline about ourselves. It’s made up of a mix of experience and rose-colored perception. In other words, it’s a mix of the way we are and the way we want to be. We look at our pasts and paint a picture, and like any painting, it’s not quite a perfect depiction of reality. Memory gets colored by our values and biases. We see ourselves as we want to be. My picture looks a little bit like this:

  • Lost 30 pounds in high school by jogging and weight lifting
  • Broke my paralyzing fear of public speaking by doing 50 public presentations in a year
  • Won two competitive fellowships to study at Oxford and the University of Edinburgh
  • Overcame ill-health to achieve a wide range of goals
  • After a failed entrepreneurial venture, I moved from temp employee to senior management at a Fortune 50 corporation and got two plum expatriate assignments in the process

Do you see a theme here? I value overcoming difficulty. If I were being grandiose, my personal elevator pitch would probably start out, “In the face of insurmountable odds, Brian accomplished X, Y, and Z.”

I know, you can laugh at that, it’s intended to be funny. But it sums up a fundamental truth about me.

I’m not saying this is true for everyone. But it is true for me. I value overcoming obstacles.

In the week when I made everything difficult, I worked out more, started work earlier, got more tasks done, and had greater satisfaction and more free time. I went to bed tired and woke up with all guns blazing.

This week, I putzed around, ate too much, didn’t sleep well, worried more, found my thought processes more jumbled, didn’t get work done on time, was much more distractible, and had a lot less satisfaction.

I learned that my self-talk had to align with my sense of self.

Which experiment did I cut short? You’d be right to think the second one. I’m back to seeing my work life as a challenge and finding purpose in that. I’m back to climbing Everest and finding pleasure in the trek.

So I ask you:

  • What story do you tell about yourself?
  • How does that story serve you?
  • How does your perception of your work align with your personal story?
  • Should your work be easy or hard for you?
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Published: October 25, 2012

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