The Deep End

Basic math is easy.

Understanding why 2 + 2 = 4 is something most of us grasp from a very young age, because our minds are wired for that kind of conceptual thinking. Two of something plus another two of something results in four of something; we’re hard-wired for this.

Writing also comes naturally to most of us. Like math, letters are encoded information, and words, sentences, paragraphs, and books are all just collections of such figures. Those of us who are fortunate to grow up with a decent education system learn to write as children, and those who miss out on that opportunity can still pick it up later in life. Like math, writing is easy.

But easy doesn’t always scale the way we might hope.

Basic math problems require little effort once we know the fundamentals, sure, but differential equations are hard.

Likewise, writing a text message is a laughably effortless activity, while writing a novel with depth, meaning, intrigue, round characters, and a gripping plot is immensely difficult.

This is a point we’ve all reached in some field, skill, or facet of personal development. It’s the moment when ‘easy’ flips over to ‘difficult,’ and our desire to succeed, to grow, to continue moving forward is challenged.

This is also why folks who start out with intellectual or educational advantages sometimes flounder later in life: if everything is easy for long enough, you don’t develop coping mechanisms for dealing with difficulty. Instead of seeing challenges as horizons to conquer, anything that doesn’t come easy is either a failure to stress over, or a devil to run from.

It took me a good deal of time to recognize that my value wasn’t determined by how easy many things were for me, but rather in how I responded to the things that weren’t so easy. As a result, I swam in the metaphorical shallow end for a significant portion of my life, exploring deeper waters only tentatively, and only until staying afloat required some effort.

Today, I spend most of my time out of my comfort zone, always a little out of place and a little uncomfortable, but always growing as a result.

Choosing the deep end, whatever that means for you, isn’t easy, but it’s certainly satisfying. The more time you spend there, the more you realize that a life without challenges, a life in the shallow end, is a very tepid, shallow one. A place far more suitable for children.

Update: April 15, 2017

As I write this update, my current struggle is with learning the piano. I say “struggle” in the sense that it’s difficult in many ways to become any good at it, not in the sense that it’s not an enjoyable process. But I’m only really able to enjoy this part of that process because I’ve come to appreciate that flailing about and feeling like an idiot with something in your life is valuable, because it means your learning and ensures you remember what it feels like to stretch yourself and rub up against the boundaries of your existing capabilities of knowledge.

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