Daniel Johnston is not widely celebrated as an instrumentalist or a vocalist and while his lyrics are beautiful, he's not Bob Dylan. And yet, I love him. Because when he sings, I can hear what he's trying to do and it is the act of trying itself that is transcendent. On some level, I'm not even listening to the end product, I'm am listening to the sound of him attempting something that others wouldn't. It's his sincere and real effort made audible that is enthralling, mystical and magical on a level few artists will ever reach. He is honestly, truly, unapologetically and without a hint of shame or self-awareness, trying. Not trying to be cool. Not trying to be cynical and detached. Just trying.
If I look at my Facebook feed, it doesn't look like anyone needs to try. Everyone else is on holiday somewhere I can only imagine, in a picture with someone attractive or accomplishing something truly great with their lives. I'd be ashamed to be seen trying in front of all these incredibly successful people. And when I put my watch or my phone or my tablet or my laptop away, and turn my television on, the beer ad shows me how much fun I should be having, then the car ad shows me how comfortable, stylish and elegant, and easy, my life should be. Everyone seems to live completely effortless lives. I, naturally, aspire to that lack of effort, of not needing to try, and I worry because my life isn't easy. I feel like I don't own the right things, know the right people, drink the right beer or earn the right amount of money and I am embarrassed by it. The difference between the effortless life I'm lead to believe I should be living, and the life I do live, in which I actually have to try, is sad and shameful.
So I look for the life I've been promised, the one in which trying isn't required, in listicles and blog posts and tweets and in one of the ten things I can do that'll change my life right now, and discovering what it is that I can't believe will happen next and the one weird trick that'll finally make me attractive. I look for it in the thin, flimsy plastic covering a box which contains something new and the sensation of ripping it apart, in the smell of an expensive book and in the protective cover that I slowly peel away from a new, glass screen.
I enjoy kayaking. Surely I should be able to go kayaking and adventuring and traveling and be successful, every single day of my life? Isn't work just some grave injustice visited upon the wretched who are doing something wrong? Why is everything so unfair? I've been told I'm special in so many different ways my entire life, why should I have to try, and continue to educate myself, try, and maintain a healthy marriage, try, and exercise, try, and work to accomplish something -- anything -- great?
This is one of the hardest illusions in the world to break. I am not special and I need to try if I want anything. There is nothing sad about that. The only happiness, joy and beauty that isn't temporary, that will nourish your soul and make you feel human and connected to yourself, is found in realizing that you actually have to try. Clean your home. Be kind to others. Manage your thoughts. Ask for help when you need it. Run, not because a shoe commercial has romanticized the experience, not because everyone else has an app that posts their personal best every single day, but because you know it will be hard and you know it will be worth it. Save your money instead of buying a new car. Eat better. And resist the constant promises that you are special, that you are owed an easy life and that something is wrong with you if actually have to try.
Remember the adage, you are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic. You are not separate from all of this, you are all of this.
It's easy to forget and so much easier to listen to the message that says, "You are special and things should be easy," because you want to listen to that message. It's a million times harder to listen to this one:
"You are human and nothing is easy." But try anyway.
To be clear: When I say try, I don't mean, finish reading this article, jump up and read a difficult book, give everything away and go and live in a commune or take up painting. That's not trying, that's just being inspired. Trying is what you do when you're not inspired. Trying is what you do when you're exhausted. Trying is the sound of someone who can't sing, singing.
It'd be natural and easy to click on the next tab, to ignore me and call me sentimental, saccharine and too sincere.
But I implore you: do difficult things.
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