It Doesn't Have to Be Hard

Biological Engineer By Samantha Sutton, PhD
Biological Engineer
Samantha Sutton has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from MIT as a Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellow. She has presented her life design philosophy to companies such as Google and the National Cancer Institute as well as universities like Duke, Stanford, and Yale.

If you are anything like me, pursuing a dream seems like it should be a lot of work.

Last fall, when I began looking for the love of my life, I suited up for the long, laborious haul. I reasoned that I needed to make a stunning online dating profile, which would take me about ten drafts, spend a half-hour each day carefully sorting through the men on the sites, arrange outings with my girlfriends to meet men, and sift through crowded rooms to find the few men who clicked with me.

Then would come a flurry of emails, voice messages and texts to set up a never-ending stream of first dates. Only a small fraction of those would be exciting enough to warrant a second date, and then I would be faced with the real work of determining compatibility, life goals and values. Lather, rinse and repeat. I reasoned that after 2-3 years of formidable effort, I would find my "one."

This is a common theme for me. Finding an apartment in New York, dropping 15 pounds and building a community in New York all seemed like a lot of work. Work worth doing, for sure, but I rolled up my sleeves and got ready to put in a Herculean amount of effort for a Hercules-sized dream.

I see the same thing in the science and engineering Ph.D. students whom I coach. I asked them to write their dreams for their graduate school experience, and dream after dream read something along the lines of "I work hard and after six years of busting my back, I prove to the world that I am good enough and have produced enough to get my Ph.D."

Just reading their dreams makes me tired FOR them.

The problem with thinking that a great dream should be a great amount of work is that then we MAKE it true. 

When I am in hard-work mode, I focus single-mindedly on the work itself instead of on the end goal, and so of course all of my results then take a lot of work. If instead I were to walk around as if today just could be the day that I magically find him, then I would behave differently in my day. I would keep my eyes open to the people around me, in the subway, at a seminar, and just be present to whatever happens and feels right. And that takes very little effort, just intention. When I am in this mindset of allowing, the right things seem to cross my path.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could have the BIG results with ease instead of effort?

A friend of mine, Dan, recently proved that big dreams can come true in the blink of an eye. His dream, for as long as I have known him, was to have his own wood shop where he could make fine cabinetry and furniture, but he didn’t have $300k to buy the necessary tools and equipment. So Dan waited, dreaming about the day when he and his wife would have saved up enough money to build his shop.

Then, a few weeks ago, on a whim, his wife had a day off and invited him to go hunting for a shop. Skeptically, Dan agreed, and suggested that they first pop by an architect's shop he had always admired. Dan and his wife began talking with the architect, asked for a tour of the wood shop, and saw that it was not being used.

The architect explained that he wanted to focus on the homes themselves, and was tired of being bothered to manage the cabinetry building himself, and so was waiting for someone to come along and run the shop. Dan could not believe his ears. He had just hit the jackpot. He didn't have $300k, but within just a month he had his shop.

I am not advocating that we all just sit in our living rooms and wait for someone to knock on the door and tell us that we just won the lottery. We have to put ourselves out in the world, in that elevator, in that shop, with our eyes open in order for opportunity to arrive.

So please do make your plans and keep them, but also be open to huge, spontaneous leaps forward.

Perhaps the answer is just under our very noses, and we are just too busy "working hard."

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