Today, I was reading books to my daughter, and was reading Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus.
It’s a sweet book about a little tiger boy, who can’t read, write, or eat neatly. His father is naturally concerned, but the parents just decide to wait patiently for their son to “bloom.” Eventually, they even stop looking.
It takes Leo a long, long time. But one day, he totally arrives, out of the blue. He can read. He can eat neatly. Not only can he speak, but he can say the whole sentences.
He bloomed. Late, but not too late.
Our societies place a lot of value on hard work. Diligence and persistence is a virtue, for sure — but I’m learning the lesson of not blindly working hard.
Because I’ve learned that trying too hard is just as bad as trying too little.
Imagine yourself knocking on a door. If you knock too softly, the people on the other side may not hear you. So you proceed to bang on the door with all your might, and not just once or twice. You are determined to continue doing that, even though your hand starts hurting right away. Because hard work is what will get you through the door, right?
Meanwhile, the residents on the other side gets scared, and dials a police instead of opening the door. Or maybe they’ll be annoyed and just yell from inside to go home.
I am guilty of trying too hard. I studied past midnight for tests, knowing that I really don’t retain knowledge that way. I came on too strongly, too fast when pursuing a girl. I’ve bit off more than I can chew at my jobs, trying to impress my superiors.
Why do we do that?
Because we are afraid.
We are afraid that if we don’t try hard enough, then we will fail. That we won’t be heard, or noticed. That we won’t matter.
If you knock too softly, they may not hear you. Right?
Except working out of fear never produces truly good results. Sure, there are lessons learned, experience gained, and maybe even short-term benefits. But hard work out of fear only produces more hard work.
For example, let’s say you put in 50 hours of work a week, trying to prove how productive and dedicated you are to your employer. The employer notices and appreciates your work — by giving you more work. Precisely because you’re productive and dependable. You are happy that you are counted on at your job, but — you are salaried, the extra hours won’t gain you anything else, and it cuts into other areas of your life. But now you can’t back down, since you’ve shown how productive you are.
You were only trying to show your worth. But instead of trusting your own instinct about what is good enough, you tried to prove it to someone else, hoping to gain their approval.
I repeat: fear drives you to try too hard.
The key point of the story above, I think, is that the parents stopped looking. The father was very concerned and kept close eyes on his son for a while — but eventually he lets the kid go, and stops watching. If you watch a kettle, it never boils.
Is that laziness? Giving up? Not trying hard enough?
No. It’s a sign of trust. He had faith, that his son would bloom.
Sometimes, it’s scarier to stop, to take it easy. It feels more comforting to keep going. I’ve gotta be productive, since I’m putting in good hours. Right?
Not necessarily. If you’re putting your effort in because you’re afraid, then it’s time to stop. The result you want will probably not come until you let it go. You don’t show your love to a little baby by holding it too tight. You loosen your grip, let him/her breathe.
From athletes to millionaire businessmen, people who do something well always make it look so easy. It’s because they’ve learned how to hold the baby they’re raising — not too tight, but with the right amount of resources and support in all the right places. They work hard, don’t get me wrong. They work hard — when and where it counts. But they don’t work too hard.
You know what little Leo says, at the end?
“I made it!”
All the while his parents were not even watching.