On my first day at the Thai Boxing camp in Chaing Mai, we started by jogging around the neighbourhood a few times, through the gravel roads, mango groves and narrow alleys of Thailand’s second biggest city. It was 35 degrees, and I was badly out of shape after several weeks of sitting on beaches and drinking cheap rum. After twenty minutes or so of running, we got back to the camp compound, and started jumping rope, to keep our heart rates up.
Our instructor, Tae-Win, was a Thai man of about fifty years old, who had a gentle face, but his body appeared to be made of living gristle. He walked in front of us as we skipped.
“New guy!” he called to me “You pick today: five minute jump rope, or ten minute jump rope?”
We were only about twenty minutes into the practice and I could already feel my dehydrated brain rattling around in my head. I was kind of worried about what I had gotten myself into. I didn’t know if I could handle ten minutes more of jumping rope, so I replied “Five minutes!”
“Ok, everybody! Fifteen minute jump rope!”
I was confused, did I hear him wrong? I looked around, the other people in the class rolled their eyes at me.
“First lesson!” Tae-win called out “Easy path is hard, hard path easy”.
I learned later that it was a game he plays with every new student. He gives two options, one easy, one hard. If you pick the easy one, you fail and he gives you something even harder.
“No easy way in Muay Thai” Tae-win explained to us as we stood there, skipping. “Can’t leave ring. You get knockout, or you win. Knockout no fun. Injury no fun”.
Tae-win was right, of course. In Muay Thai, you can’t take the easy way out. You can’t hide in a corner, or jump out of the ring and say forget it. If you even flinch or try to catch your breath, you’re leaving yourself open to attack. You have to push your way through everything your opponent throws at you.
But life works the same way.
Some people live with the dangerous desire to find a safe place and make things easy for themselves. They’re going after a safe job, a safe place to live, a safe relationship, and once they have found that easy path, they’re going to let their guard down, chill out, and relax. They’re going to enjoy their comfort.
I don’t think it works that way.
No matter where you are in life, you are still in the ring. Trying to take the easy path in life is like sitting in the corner of a Muay Thai match with your guard up. You might feel safe for a bit, but you are not. Life is out there, and life is not always just or benevolent. In fact, it lurks just outside your comfortable life, ready to knock you out.
I can’t tell you how many students I’ve had that though they had it. They had good jobs, relationships, a house. They thought, “I’m set, let’s relax”. So they got out of shape, stopped growing, and sat on their asses for a few years. Then, all of a sudden, boom. Maybe it’s a divorce, losing their job, or realizing they were badly underwater on their home, but suddenly they realize they’re still in the ring, and life just gave them a Muay Thai elbow to the face.
What’s the solution? Don’t listen to that little voice in your head that seeks safety and comfort. Instead, make a conscious effort to do things the hard way, by challenging yourself and pushing yourself – even if that little voice in the back of your head says you don’t need to. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life – it just means you can’t be lazy about enjoying life.
The hard way means you need to put yourself out there. You need to challenge your assumptions, and get over your “sticking points”. You need to push yourself, and not wait for things to come to you. You need to take control of your destiny. This is the hard way, but it’s not an unsatisfying way. In fact, it’s much more satisfying than living the easy life.
The hard way is eating healthy, working out, getting out of your comfort zone, learning new things, taking control of your life and being assertive in your relationships. The easy way is eating junk, getting out of shape, staying in your comfort zone, not learning, and being passive in your life. The hard way leads to growth, wealth and health. The easy way leads to diabetes, a social security scooter, and an ex wife that hates you. Which one is really easy in the long run?