Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.


Stop Trying So Hard

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 22, 2012 at 3:30 PM

I've worked hard my entire life. Really, really hard. From a young age I bought into statements like: "Nothing in life comes easy," "You have to fight to make it in the world," and "If it was easy, everyone would do it." I pushed myself to win every award I could in high school. Then I pushed myself to become one of the first few people in my family to go to university. Then I worked my butt off to get 90s in all my classes. Like a blacksmith working hot metal, I spent countless hours trying to hammer my life into the shape I desired.


And guess what? I achieved a lot. But I still wasn't happy.


The protestant work ethic that has plagued North Americans for over 100 years has brought us many successes. We have cars, electricity, clean water. We can travel anywhere in the world and eat pineapple in the middle of December. But I think we're also more miserable than we've been at any other point in human history.


Many of us wholeheartedly believe that we are in control. We think that we need to force our lives to unfold on our schedule. We need to slave away at a job we despise so that we can keep up with the Jones'. We need a mortgage, two cars, two kids and a white picket fence so that we can prove to everyone around us that we've "made it."


But what if there was another way?


What if, instead of pushing so hard to make life happen, we decided to let go and allow life to happen to us? What if, instead of trying to always be in control, we surrendered control to something bigger than ourselves? What if, instead of working so hard to figure out the answers, we allowed ourselves to be guided to the solution in perfect timing?


This approach flies in the face of what modern society tells us to do. But the beautiful thing is that if we're willing to trust in the process, it works.


If you look back over your own life you will probably notice many times when trying less actually brought about the result you desired. Whether it was an unexpected job interview that popped up just when you decided to stop sending out resumes, or a chance encounter that led you to your soul mate just when you'd given up on dating - often when we let go of the reins, the universe is happy to show us the way.


When I was close to finishing my PhD, I became unsure about whether I wanted to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a professor. For some reason, my gut was telling me that I was meant to do something different. I applied to several non-academic jobs but never got an interview. One Friday, I made a last ditch attempt by applying for a position as an IT Research Analyst. I almost laughed as I pressed the "send" button to submit my resumé. Why on earth would anyone hire me to do IT research, when I'd spent 10 years studying psychology? So I let go of my attachment to the outcome, shut down my computer for the day and headed out to a pub with some friends.


Well, guess who just happened to be at the pub that night? The CEO of the IT company where I'd submitted my resumé. Oh and guess what else? The CEO just happened to be friends with one of my friends. I was introduced, and a few months later I was hired as an IT Research Analyst - a job that taught me so much not only about technology, but also about how to let go and follow my heart.


Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that you should simply give up and accept whatever life throws at you. I think it's important to have goals and work toward our dreams. The trick is that we need to strike a balance between effort and ease.


I use this example quite often when I teach yoga. When my students are holding a difficult posture, I encourage them to use their breath to find some sense of ease in the pose. This practice teaches them how to work hard and be relaxed at the same time. Their muscles are working, but their breath flows freely. Their bodies are pushing an edge, but their minds are at ease. I think we need to bring more of this balanced approach into our daily lives.


Personally, my workhorse mentality is still alive and well, and I often struggle to maintain my sense of balance. My default is to try to make things happen, as opposed to letting things be. Many times I feel like a fish trying to swim upstream against a strong current. I push and push and push and nothing seems to work. The good news is that I've become better at catching myself. During these times, I now have many tools that I can draw upon to help me switch gears, go with the current and be guided downstream. Whether it's through meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature, one day at a time I'm learning how to surrender my life to a power greater than myself and trust that I will always be guided in the right direction.


I don't care if you believe in God, Allah, Buddha, Spirit, angels, your cat, or nothing at all. This isn't about religion. This is about acknowledging the fact that there is so much in this universe that we still don't understand. One of the things that we're just starting to appreciate is that there is a force out there that's willing to guide us if we're open to it. I often like to think of this force as my True Self. When I take the time to get silent and listen to myself, the answers always appear. They might not appear exactly when I want them to, or in the exact form that I expect - but they always come.


This month, I encourage you to let go of the wheel and experiment with divine cruise control. Start by answering these questions:


"What area of my life feels like a struggle right now?"

"Where do I feel like I'm swimming upstream?"

"Where am I trying too hard to force a particular outcome?"


Once you've narrowed things down, let go. This release can take a variety of forms. It might be that you decide to take a week off from job hunting. Or you stop trying to force your family to conform to your standards. Or you ask your spouse to cook for you. Whatever it is - do it.


Many times, our insistence on forcing the outcome that we desire gets in the way of the outcome that would be most beneficial to us. When you let go, things often turn out exactly as they're meant to be.


So please, give yourself permission to release your iron grip. Trust that you are being supported.


Surrender control and allow yourself to be guided to the outcome that will be of the highest service both to you and to the world.

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Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
11:28 AM on April 5, 2012 
Tanya, my advice to you is to follow your heart! If your heart is telling you to work with animals, do it, regardless of what other people might think. Your heart will never lead you in the wrong direction and you will never regret it. I think that this blog post might give you an extra boost of inspiration:
Reply Tanya Sosinko
10:21 PM on April 3, 2012 
Hi Bethany, wow, your blog here just described my life! :-) How did you DO that? I have just graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Social Science degree in Counselling, and I started doubting whether I even wanted to be a counsellor. Similar to your story. I have also pushed and pushed to 'succeed', but was not happy. When I 'decided' to find a life partner, I went online, creating a profile, being quite specific about what I was and wasn't looking for. I met my fiance 8 years ago, and we are really happy together. BUT, I MADE it happen! Now, I am job-hunting, still only partly sure what I want to do to earn a 'dream job'/career' would be to become a vet nurse, and work with animals for the rest of my life. I know I can do it, but my current problem is that I'm 48, I have a huge student loan already, and what would I live on while studying for yet another 2 years, besides living off my loan again, pushing it up even higher, with the risk of not getting work at the end of it? There is where the panic button sets in. So, I've been tentatively looking for work, but not struggling, and also taking it easy. This though, makes me feel guilty about staying home, taking it easy, letting go, as you say, waiting for the 'universe' to take a hand. I admit I'm tense a lot, and feeling anxious. The next intake of veterinary nursing school is in February next year now. I just missed this year's intake, by hesitating! Some sound advice and friendly words would be really helpful right now! THANK YOU! :-) Regards, Tanya Sosinko, Hamilton, New Zealand.
Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
11:29 AM on April 2, 2012 
Thanks for your feedback Jenn! You might be interested in the work of Amber Rae ( Here is what Amber has to say about not knowing where our decisions might lead: "Now is not about looking for answers because we don?t yet know their meaning. Now is about living for the question and experiencing the answer."
Reply Jenn
2:11 PM on March 30, 2012 
Thank you!
It is always nice knowing that others feel the same way. We all know we aren't alone in this world but we get so caught up within ourselves and what goes on in our own minds we forget ...
I need to really focus on letting go, releasing my grip and letting everything fall into its place. I have been struggling with changing my career for so long now and trying to force things into place that never work. I'm right now I'm just testing the waters in a few areas that I love and letting it all come together as it may. The biggest road block are the people around me and their questions of "well what are you going to do with that" "where will that certificate take you" ... I have to start answering them with ' I'll let you know when I find out ' ... everyone is just so consumed with it needing to lead to that white picket fence but not me. I have NO idea where it will lead me but I know it'll be somewhere and I'm sure that place will be happier then where I am now.

So, thank you for your words and anytime I need the courage or boost I'm going to re-read this.
Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
3:37 PM on March 28, 2012 
Thank-you everyone - such beautiful feedback! This is a topic that really strikes a chord with people. I think many of us are tired of trying so hard. But it's been bred into us to do so. Let's all commit to trying less!
Reply Marianna Paulson
8:26 PM on March 27, 2012 
I just copied and pasted from my newsletter. Sorry about the messy format.
Reply Marianna Paulson
8:24 PM on March 27, 2012 
This post resonated with me. Two of the things I was nodding my head to: "Strike a balance between effort and ease." "There is so much in the universe that we still don't understand."

I love it - "Divine Cruise Control"

I knew I had written about "effort", so I trawled back through my newsletters. In the Dec. 2010 issues, I had written this in my "Defining Moment" section:

Try ? to make an attempt or effort to do something. ~ Oxford Dictionary

Effort ? strenuous physical or mental exertion.

The word ?effort? can be traced back to Old French. ?Esforz? ? force, impetuosity, strength, power

Do ? perform an action

Which one sounds and feels better? "Try" or "do"?

Say the following two sentences aloud: "I'm trying to do it." "I'm working on it."

Is there a difference in tone for you?

Thank you for explaining this very important lesson in such a clear way.
Reply Joanne Bull
5:13 AM on March 27, 2012 
This was a perfectly timed piece and I wholeheartedly agree with your writings. The challenge is to recognise when we start to over control and release the grips and go with the flow. Getting outside in nature, reconnecting with the breath, stilling the mind and going with the slow are all helpers. Thank you for the inspiration.
Reply Rozina
2:46 AM on March 27, 2012 
wow! "balance between effort and ease " gives me a tag line to follow. And explaining through yoga is a perfect match.
really good to read and relate to your thoughts..
Reply Melody
4:22 PM on March 25, 2012 
Just a note: I was not familar with the book eat , pray. love...but my travel agent said I must read the book as it is exactly me ...I did not until I came back from Bali the long to read so got the movie and my SURPRISE it was like that book was written about me ..from an unfilling marriage to meeting a love in Bali....ugh how to go where my heart and soul knows its should be.
4:18 PM on March 25, 2012 
I am struggling with moving to a different country ....I struggle with making this all happen and keeping the peace with family left behing...they don't understan at 59 my need to move on from my life here...For many years as many of us we have helped other people, helped makes others dreams happen always putting my needs last to please others ...I am tired of working 3 full time jobs to make others comfortable I am just turning 60 in May and relalize that if I dont do what now while healthy active I may never do it and regret the rest of my live not taking this step. I find it so hard to quite my mind to think this thru clearly yet I KNOW in my interal self that this is what I need to do even though it will end a marriage that is ok but never ment my needs although all of his needs, dreams and wants have been realized...I have never once in my life hand anyone say what are your dreams, what can I do for you to help you with your goals but I have always been at the ready for others....I dont know why I am rambling I think it just because I have no one to speak to this thanks for listening not sure if you have any suggestions but they would be welcome
Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
2:25 PM on March 25, 2012 
Thanks for your feedback Ross! We're all on this journey together, and I'm confident that you will eventually get to a place where you can let go and surrender. It doesn't happen overnight, and it takes practice! As I mentioned in the blog, I still struggle sometimes to maintain my sense of balance, but one day at a time I'm getting there!
Reply Ross
12:13 PM on March 23, 2012 

I love the thought of being able to move from struggle to surrender. I catch myself many times using the world struggle to describe things that are happening in my life. I am struggling with my running, my writing, being a contribution... Releasing the iron grip, trust and surrender. I would like to get there.