A fellow went to a Zen master and said, “If I work very hard, how soon can I be enlightened?”
The Zen master looked him up and down and said, “Ten years.”
The fellow said, “No, listen, I mean if I really work and use my vast knowledge, how long — ”
The Zen master cut him off. “I’m sorry. I misjudged. Twenty years.”
”Wait!” Said the young man, “You don’t understand! I’m — ”
“Thirty years,” said the Zen master.
I love this story. The eager fellow who wants to become enlightened as quickly as possible, is all too familiar. Moreover, the story touches on an important subject that is common in today’s world: shortcuts.
Our thirst for knowledge, success, and achievement has created a culture that wants to do everything as quickly as possible. We want it and we want it now. To satisfy this need, we look for hacks and shortcuts and strategies that save us time and energy.
There are two problems with this obsession.
1. Spending too much time on the shortcut
The barrage of information we consume on a daily basis is often centered around this subject. How to hack this or do that. It becomes quite easy to get lost in this sea of information and the subsequent search for the silver bullet that will solve all of our problems.
Instead of truly engaging with the work required to achieve our goals, we waste time looking for ways to do them faster. In the end, just doing the work as we know how, ends up being the fastest and most fruitful approach. Don’t get lost in the search for a shiny new hack.
2. Shortcuts don’t take you all the way
That is not to say a clever shortcut or trick isn’t worthwhile, but it won’t take us where we truly want to go. Such strategies can make some things easier, but to truly achieve goals, mastery, and success, it still comes down to doing the work.
Furthermore, many of these strategies and insights are derived from experience. We can discover truly useful hacks and better understand how we work, not by searching for them, but by noticing them in the work we do.
There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. HELEN KELLER
I’m certainly guilty of writing about similar ideas, because they are fascinating to an extent. The truth is, consuming information is all well and good, and the idea of a shortcut saving me hours, days, or years of time, is beyond intriguing.
There’s a limit though. When finding the shortcut becomes a distraction and not an asset. When it requires me to misplace my attention. It is in these moments that I know I need to step back and acknowledge that I’ve lost sight of what is truly important. Doing the work.
I think a lot of us do this without noticing it. Perhaps we’re all in the same boat and simply need to realize, some things just take time.
The sooner we accept that and get to work, the better off we will all be.