Kryptonite for the Overachiever

Recently, I tackled Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most, by Greg McKeown. Similar to his last book, the book reads fast … effortless … almost. Apologies for the poor pun, we’ll call this one and done, but I enjoy these styles of books–a quick read. And I learn a nugget, a takeaway to improve or ponder. This book has a theme about stepping back, examining a problem, and finding a new means forward. Why struggle? Take the following definition described in the book, Effortless Inversion means looking at problems from the opposite perspective. It means asking, “What if this could be easy?” It means learning to solve problems from a state of focus, clarity, and calm. It means getting good at getting things done by putting in less effort. There are two ways to achieve all the things that really matter. We can (a) gain superhuman powers so we can do all the impossibly hard but worthwhile work or (b) get better at making the impossibly hard but worthwhile work easier.

I once knew a leader who constantly spouted, What would this look like if it were easy? Being a manager for years and making hundreds of mistakes and misteps, I will say the delivery matters. If misused, a counter-response can emerge. What if it ain’t effffffffing easy? The hard is a requirement; otherwise, why try at all? Struggle is meaningful. Yes, balance matters. Hard changes in life take the most contemplation. And, most importantly, one has to enter the arena instead of observing from afar.

Yes, this is a worthy read. One has to hold kryptonite once in awhile.

Here are the kindle highlights I took down that counteract the mythology of blood, toil, tears, and sweat:

  • And, ever the overachiever, he’d taken this to the next level. He didn’t just think that working endless hours would lead to success; he thought it was success. If you didn’t stay late at work, you must not have a very important job.
  • What he learned from this experience was this: When you simply can’t try any harder, it’s time to find a different path.
  • The implicit message is that if we aren’t perpetually exhausted, we must not be doing enough. That great things are reserved for those who bleed, for those who almost break. Crushing volume is somehow now the goal.
  • What could happen in your life if the easy but pointless things became harder and the essential things became easier? If the essential projects you’ve been putting off became enjoyable, while the pointless distractions lost their appeal completely?

Removing complexity:

  • “I could see it all for what it was: layers and layers of unnecessary complexity. I could see how it was expanding all the time and how I was suffocating underneath all of it.” She decided it was time to make a change: When faced with a task that felt impossibly hard, she would ask, “Is there an easier way?”
  • It’s curious to me how we default to sayings like “It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it” or “It’s going to be really hard to make that happen, but we should try.” It’s like we all automatically accept that the “right” way is, inevitably, the harder one.
  • What if, rather than fighting our preprogrammed instinct to seek the easiest path, we could embrace it, even use it to our advantage? What if, instead of asking, “How can I tackle this really hard but essential project?,” we simply inverted the question and asked, “What if this essential project could be made easy?” For some, the idea of working less hard feels uncomfortable.

Adding joy to the hard:

  • There is power in pairing our most enjoyable activities with our most essential ones. After all, you’re probably going to do the enjoyable things anyway. You’re going to watch your favorite show, or listen to the new audiobook you just discovered, or relax in your hot tub at some point. So why not pair it with running on the treadmill or doing the dishes or returning phone calls? Perhaps that seems obvious. But how long have you tried to force yourself to do the important but difficult thing through sheer determination, instead of making it fun?

The power of taking a break:

  • In fact, one study found that the best-performing athletes, musicians, chess players, and writers all honed their skills in the same way: by practicing in the morning, in three sessions of sixty to ninety minutes, with breaks in between. Meanwhile, those who took fewer or shorter breaks performed less well.


  • The featured image was taken at the Grand Canyon, a few million years of dripping water can look easy–a little each day.