“Ease is the sign of grace in everything.” ~Marty Rubin
Work harder. Never give up. Be confident in your abilities. You can get out of bed sooner. Speak up in front of the mirror. Adapt the habits of “highly successful” people…
What number of times have these words been repeated? In award speeches, articles, self-help books… All those who have made it seem to imply this: If you just work hard enough, long enough and believe in yourself, you will be successful.
But, like…will you though?
I can’t disagree entirely. It’s not that these things don’t contribute to success. You can. However, they are given far more credit than they deserve, and overshadowing other equally important ingredients.
All these gold nuggets are flawed because they contain a lot of sample bias. Many successful people believe hard work is the key to success. They like to think that their achievements are due to having earned them.
It’s nice to think that everyone gets what they deserve, after all. But that does mean all this well-meant wisdom completely ignores the part of the Venn diagram containing those who are just as good and worked just as hard but aren’t successful. Their thoughts? Obviously, we don’t know, because we don’t hear much from those who don’t make it.
But you’re in luck! It’s because I experienced great success and failure in both my career choices. I know people that have made it as well as people that haven’t gotten to where they hoped they would. And after spending decades on this planet overthinking, overanalyzing, philosophizing, and most of all failing epically I have discerned that, in the end, there’s one real tip for success that lies at the foundation of it all…
Yes. Ease. In perhaps a cruel trick of the universe, I’ve found that the things that come easier to us are the things we can find most success in.
With actors, filmmakers, make-up artists and other filmmaking friends, I’ve seen it. Different friends have experienced it, with one achieving success while the other was struggling. I have experienced—and dear Lord felt—it in my own life.
The cruelest of it all is that we can’t fake ease. We can tell ourselves that we’re cool and we’re chill and it’s all easy, but if we don’t deep down also believe—nay, know—this to be true, it still won’t work. Maybe cruel is a better word. It is what it is.
There are still things that you can do. You can do things that will help you achieve success, and even help you to be more healthy. You will be happier if you do.
So, here goes…
Find Something You’re Actually Great At
Stupidly obvious yet deceivingly hard: Pick something you’re actually really good at. It’s hard because the things we’re good and the things we want to pursue aren’t always aligned. On top of that it’s not always easy to be honest with yourself about what you’re naturally good at. But there are clear signs when you’ve found your talent:
You will be told by others. Other than your family and friends, people will praise you for what you do or suggest that it be pursued professionally. It’s that knowing feeling where you know something. Like it’s your thing.
When you begin to attempt things you will get these encouraging signals. This is something that’s beautifully described in Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist, but I’ll give you a more down-to-Earth tale: my own humble life experience.
One day I dreamed of being an actress. Over ten years later, I was determined to pursue an acting career. It was always difficult. It was always fraught with negativity. Nobody ever said, “Wow, you were so good!” after a play. No acting teacher ever said, “You’ve got talent.” I never felt like I had a deep, intrinsic connection to acting.
I wasn’t bad, I was just average. Sometimes it’s less. Sometimes, even more. However, acting became entangled with my deep and abiding love of film. It was difficult to let go. And as I was fully into the “never quit” and “just work harder” mindset I continued on…
My writing, and in particular my directing career began out disgustingly simple. This is not only in contradiction to my flailing efforts at acting, but also in opposition to my peers in the new field.
Now I’m not saying I didn’t work hard, or I didn’t encounter obstacles.
Writing, learning and writing late at night was my main focus. I also had a job that required me to work weekends. The difference was that all of these rejections and heartbreaks were balanced out by wins. It was well worth the effort every now and again. It was easy to do. The flow was natural. I had to continue swimming. Yes, in a wild and rocky river. Not upstream.
I know this is a tough sell as a “tip” because it’s not really something you can do too much about.
In this world of life-is-what-you-make-it and you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to thinking we have trouble accepting that sometimes, some things are inalienable truths. So, we might not be as good at what we desire to do.
But it’s better to accept it and find something you are good at, because yes, you can put in those 10,000 hours, and yes, hard work does beat talent. But having to outwork others with talent puts a lot of strain on something—which is the antithesis of ease. And things that are strained or surrounded by negative energy have a hard time taking off, unless they’re coupled with confidence, which brings us to the next tip:
Find Something You’re Confident in
Confidence is a key ingredient to ease in all areas. If you’re confident, you might not even have to be that good at the thing you’re pursuing. You can relax and remain focused on your task when you are confident. You will enjoy your task when you feel confident. And confidence can convince people you’re the person for the job—whether that’s justified or not.
Okay, it does depend somewhat on what you’re pursuing of course: convincing someone you’re the best abstract sculptor is perhaps easier than convincing someone you’re the best at, say, Olympic sprinting. However, most things aren’t—or can’t—be measured as precisely as Olympic runs. A confident, decent theoretical physicist could still do better at getting research grants than an insecure and amazing one.
It’s a bit of an Emperor’s new clothes thing. We like people who can give us answers in a world full of uncertainty, gray areas and constant change. It is those who can provide security and stability in this uncertain world that we need. Confident people promise these things implicitly.
Great skill combined with confidence is the ideal combination, although it’s not necessary. The other part of the Venn diagram that is often overlooked is the overshadowed portion. Opposite those talented, hard workers who Haven’t found success is a group of not-that-talented, not-that-hard-working folks who have They were successful.
Confidence must be supported by something. Something like a bare minimum of skill, a ton of privilege, or both… Confidence can make up for a lot but not for everything, not long-term. Look at Exhibit B: Elizabeth Holmes. (Google her if you don’t know her story!)
You can find something that sparks joy
Marie Kondo is a great philosopher who said: “Find something that inspires joy.”
For many reasons, this is crucial. Pursuing something for reals—no matter how good or confident you are—is going to lead to moments of rejection and failure. You will experience self-doubt, heartbreak and even self-doubt. The only way you’re going to get through all that and persist, until the end, is if the thing you’re doing brings you such joy that you can’t let go of it. That you’d keep doing it even if you didn’t find success in it.
Joy allows you to be present in the moment and not only on the end result. It creates joy and lightness, which can lead to greater happiness and ease. Joy can be infectious, attracts other people and creates more possibilities. Perhaps most importantly, joy can make you feel happier.
Don’t get me wrong, I know many people are willing to put up with and tolerate lots of heartbreak and rejection without much joy or encouragement in between, all in the hopes of making it one day—a day that will make all that pain and suffering worthwhile. For years, I was one of those people. It’s the whole #thehustle and #thegrind mindset.
But here’s the thing: First of all, it squeezes all the ease and flow out of things, making the chance of success slim regardless. But most of all, if basically you’re willing to let something in your life treat you like an abusive partner, you have to wonder if perhaps there’s something more going on. You are capable of more than just passion, persistence, and ambition.
Which ties into the following…
Separate Your Identity from Your Goals
Writing and film directing are a big part of me and my life. It takes up most of my time and my imagination. It’s how I spend my days and pay for my rent. It’s how I built character. It was how I developed as a person. However, don’t bring yourself down or build yourself up by equating your value with the culmination of your accomplishments. Don’t make your dreams your entire identity.
If you’re the aforementioned type who just goes and goes and goes no matter the heartbreak and absence of joy and happiness, there might be some identity entanglement. Some veiled other reason you’re pursuing your goal. Some unconscious motivation that drives your unwavering persistence. Perhaps you are looking for validation. Maybe healing. Or the belief that achieving your goals will solve all life’s other problems.
I’ve seen this with a lot of aspiring (and successful!) It’s something I have seen with many talented (and sometimes successful) artists. It’s almost always caused by something rooted in childhood trauma and therefore is absolutely not something you should chastise yourself for. However, it’s a great idea to talk with yourself about your feelings. Without your dreams, who are you? There’s so much more. Your creativity, your humor, your empathy, your karaoke skills, your gorgeous hair, or I don’t know: your knowledge of Mesolithic birds.
You cannot control your goals or dreams. They are too fragile and insecure to become the basis of your identity. It will be difficult to achieve success if all your problems are entangled. They will continue growing at the same pace as your success. So, while you may feel as though your raison d’être is your dream, as though your goals are you, try to put it in perspective. This can seem huge. But it can’t be everything.
A Full and Happy Life
While the first few tips were perhaps of the harder kind—the ones genetics and deeply-rooted cognitions partially dictate for you—there is one easier thing you can do to create, well, ease (one shot for every time I mention “ease!”): Create a full life.
By “full” I don’t mean clog up your schedule 24/7. I mean make your life fun, whatever “fun” means to you. Live. Register for pastry chef classes, have fun with your friends, create furniture and love one another, study Jiu Jitsu, draw, join an athletic team, enjoy all of the Proust books, get to know new people, live in love-live-laugh, travel, or just hang out.
When dreams are less important, they allow more room for dreaming and feel less restricted. Not unimportant, but less important. Because we’re busy with being a parent or competing in a grill-master competition or whatever. Other interests and pursuits take off the pressure, make us realize we’re more than our goals, and help us enjoy the task at hand.
You can define success for yourself
Last, but certainly not the least. An actress once said this to me after being told by a teacher. Before you can do anything, think about what success looks like for you. Is making a living off of creating fairy jewelry on Etsy enough, or do you need to become the world’s biggest supplier of fairy jewelry and have three mansions on three continents? Although one might be better than another, the process is still worthwhile.
It’s important to think about what success looks like to you because if you don’t, you may always continue reaching for that next bar. It’s possible to lie awake at night wishing for more, but completely unaware of the people you already have. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic but you get my point.
It is easy to forget about the successes you have already achieved. All the successes along the journey. Sometimes you may lose your ability to relax or find contentment. And if that’s not the ultimate goal of success, what is?
All About Ease
So I’ve been rambling about how it seems a degree of ease is key finding success, but what is it about ease? What is this cruel trick of the universe that somehow lets us find more success in things that come easier—whether by function of our confidence, talent, joy or by them simply being less important to us? I don’t claim to know why this is. I’m a mere mortal who after two years of the pandemic still can’t remember to bring a face mask everywhere. But, there are some things I believe.
My belief is that ease plays a part in our success. It can suffocate people if they demand and require too much from others. This engulfs every interaction with negative and tense energy, leaving the other person no room to be themselves and give them what they want. Their spontaneity and generosity are stifled by our expectations, and ultimately their willingness to have a meaningful relationship with us. Even if they give all that we can.
Even more so if everything is given to you.
Relationships that are healthy involve giving and taking. Constant unprompted giving without anything in return alerts people that there’s a disconnect from reality. That perhaps you’re not engaged with the actual person in the relationship but only with what they mean to you. You want them to do what you ask. They’ll escape either because the burden of carrying everything is too big or treat us increasingly worse in the hopes we’ll do the escaping ourselves. The latter was the case with my acting “career.”
I think it’s the same with goals and dreams. We strangle our dreams and goals when we hold on to them.
A blocked fountain will not allow water to flow. Finding ease lessens the strain, injects positive energy, and gives whatever you’re pursuing room to breathe. To be achieved, goals require positive energy and space to breathe. They need room to breathe to find different ways—including unexpected ones—to help us succeed and need positive energy to attract people to create these ways.
This sounds very spiritual to someone who started with science and bias. But hey, all science once started out as esoteric endeavors that were considered philosophy at best, so… In absence of proper science to describe these things we should be able to freely theorize in perhaps more mystical terms.
Your take? Do you think I have forgotten something important? Are you able to confirm my hypothesis? It could also be debunked. I’d love to hear.
About Shanice Kamminga
Shanice, a Dutch director and screenwriter is Shanice. She was selected as one of the five winners of Netflix New Voices 2021 and also made the semi-finals (50 out of 8000) of The Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship for emerging screenwriters. Her short film called “Other” featuring couture by Iris van Herpen premiered at Imagine Film Festival 2021. She’s currently writing a sci-fi series for Videoland as well as directing commercials for both national and international clients. http://shanicekamminga.com/
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