I think a lot about easy and hard.
I think about how easy and hard affect us.
I think about how easy everything is made to seem.
If I drink this beer or drive that car, I will get the girl and the impossibly modern house with a view of LA stretching out before me.
It’s easy. It only takes the drinking of a beer.
Or if I buy this product, my belly fat, or my acid-reflux, or my sciatica will disappear.
Like how all our problems will be over—easy—if we build this wall,
or expel these people or rattle those sabers.
We want an easy answer to everything.
That, more than anything else, seems to be, today, ‘the American Way.’
In advertising we’re often briefed that such and such product will transform, or disrupt, or make profitable such and such business.
It’s easy, we’re meant to say.
But in real-life, very little is easy.
In fact, when I think about what I’ve accomplished in life,
the worthwhile things were hard.
Buying an apartment.
Sustaining a career.
Keeping one’s faculties intact.
Saving something for a rainy day.
Yesterday, I stumbled upon an article in “The New York Times.” It told me that yesterday was the 65th anniversary of the publication of Hemingway’s last book, “The Old Man and the Sea.”
I think about the “Old Man” a lot because the writing in it seems so surpassingly easy. I don’t think there’s a word in the book (which is only 140 pages) that is longer than “DiMaggio.”
Who couldn’t write such a book? A washed up old man goes fishing and fails.
Sort of ‘who couldn’t paint a Jackson Pollack?’
But one thing led to another and I dug up the original book review of “Old Man.”
In it the reviewer, Robert Gorham Davis quickly gets to a point: “The Old Man and the Sea,” published in 1952 was in effect a continuation of Hemingway’s great short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” which Hemingway published 27-years earlier in 1925.
The simplicity of “Old Man”? The result of almost three-decades of labor—three decades of trial, errors, triumphs and failure.
Simple isn’t, in other words, easy. Simple is hard.
But today we have a different idea of simplicity than that which fed Papa. We think simple should be simple.
We think our progress as individuals, our progress at work is pre-ordained, almost Calvinistically. That our paths to success are, well, simple.
Years ago, I had a conversation with a very wise friend in the business. She said to me, in effect, that two things really matter. One is your portfolio—the work you’ve created. The work you’ve put your heart and head and sinew in. The second is your reputation. How you’ve worked with clients, how you’ve learned from superiors, how you’ve helped build careers.
Success in life doesn’t come with an on-off switch. And (I can say this because I’m old) it isn’t measured in one-year increments, or even five. Successes can be simple, but success is not. It takes a lifetime and you won’t know you’ve got it till you have.