Choose the Hard Path

Bryce (22) og Olivia Undhardt (20) på bryllupsreise til California

There is something with us human being that is almost ingrained in our nature. We tend to take the easy way. Why shouldn’t we? Why make it hard when we can make it easy? I think this most human feature stems from prehistoric times, when we were still hunters and gathers. Life was a struggle – and you had to conserve energy and breath to be able to survive. If you could find something to eat – and enough of it – in the tree next to you, why look for something further away?

Today, though, we live quite a different life. We don’t struggle to find food or survive on a fundamental level – well, the lucky ones of us I should add, those of us who can just go to the store and find what we need, and are able to afford it. I guess we still choose the easy way, it’s just that it’s so much easier compared to when we lived a hunter’s or a gatherer’s life. The big difference, thus, is now it’s actually easy, while it wasn’t back then. The modern, undemanding life doesn’t fill our lives with purpose any more. We need something more. We need to expand and breathe – in a different way. Maybe finding a deeper meaning with life – now that it is so easy to live and survive it and we actually have time to think about it.

This more we are looking for may be finding fulfilling challenges we can grow with – as human beings, as creative beings, as social beings. It may be pursuing our passions as I wrote about in my post last week, Finding Purpose. That is quite a different ball game, though, than finding food to survive another day. If the purpose is growth and expanding of the self, the easy way is no longer an effective strategy.

Instead, if you are pursuing art – or more specifically as is the case for me; photography – choose the hard path. It will make you better at what you do. Don’t go the easy way. It will only lead to the same old boring results. You want to expand and grow, no? The only thing that’s going to be easy is choosing – as hard as it in itself is going to be.

To become good as a photographer – or any kind of artist – and reach the fulfilment I wrote about in the before mentioned post, you have to grow an increasingly stubborn rejection of any notions of shortcuts being available for you. Live by the philosophy of the Buddhist monk, who said he was taught that when two paths diverged in front of him he should take the harder of the two. Robert Frost, the American poet, would say the one less travelled. I suspect it’s less travelled because we’re all looking for shortcuts and forsaking the harder path. But here’s the thing, the shortcuts won’t get us there. It’s the harder path that will make us better artists.

Shortcuts in art lead to clichés and propaganda. They lead to artists more concerned about the end product than what they want to express, and they lead to art that denies a basic truth about humanity. It’s as simple as this: There are no shortcuts for anything we are passionate about. No shortcuts in love, in health, in spirituality, or even the wildly pragmatic world of business. Sometimes there are shortcuts to the local Starbucks, but that’s about it. A pursuit of shortcuts creates shallow art, if art at all.

Moreover, a pursuit of shortcuts does something else. It deeply discourages the growing artist who tries them, and finds them leading nowhere. The shortcut drops the earnest artist in the middle of nowhere, with no map or water, and then vanishes. It leaves us with a sense of «now what?». In the end it forces us to walk back to where we started and make up for lost time on the path we ought to have trod from the beginning.

Art is hard. I think we need to understand that, and at the same time not be discouraged by the fact. Because, as soon as we choose the hard path, we will find it rewarding and fulfilling beyond our imaginations. However, we have to make that first choice. The conclusion? There’s no secret to success or photographic virtuosity – in any arts as a matter of fact, and if there is one it’s this: it’s a long, hard, but gratifying road with no shortcuts. It took me half of my life to figure it out. I thought I could sail down the easy road, but it left me pretty empty handed both as an artist and a human being.


80 thoughts on “Choose the Hard Path

  1. I certainly understand the idea that there are no shortcuts when it comes to learning something well or developing a proficiency in anything at all. It surely must also be true about art and the creative process. I have a habit of “dabbling” in a variety of interests and I think that may at times be the “easy” way to avoid hard work. It does prevent me from developing an expertise or being truly skilled. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, but it is worth pondering. I value your perspective, Otto. This was interesting to read and to think about.

    1. I think we have to put things in perspective. Dabbling with do with many things – and we cannot be truly passionate about everything we do. Some tings are just for fun and we do them the easy way. But when it comes to true passion, there is no longer an easy way, not if you want to pursue it with all your heart.

  2. We see so many artists chasing that one guy who sells all the paintings, sculptures or photos. You have to find your own style, what ever that may be, And, it’s usually down the long hard path.

  3. Otto, you have touched the heart of art in your fine post. Sadly, art has become synonymous with cookie-cutter consumerism. Thank you for inspiring my heart to go hunt for art the hard way yet again.

  4. i took the easy way out and didn’t read the whole article haha (i have bleach in my hair and couldn’t put my glasses on proper) i like the picture, getting married is definitely NOT taking the easy way 🙂

  5. Beautifully said, Otto. No shortcuts to following our passion and living with purpose.

    The almost unnoticed social pressure to conform to average standards, brings most people to average and unhappy life paths. Some not even discovering that their unhappiness comes from not having yet found out what their passion is.

    The ones who know it though, and don’t follow it because of the pressure to deliver, to perform, to be someone, to make money, to have a job (art being considered not a job).

    Somehow, the hunters had it easier on the social pressure whilst much harder on the resources availability. We live exactly in the opposite state.

    In our social context, no shortcut is accepting that you don’t need to have it all that is offered to consume; that you don’t need to do what everyone does; that you don’t need to follow the paths lined up by others for you; that you don’t need to be someone else but you.

    The biggest pressure we feel is of self-acceptance; realizing that frees up from being accepted by the so-called society. Choosing to be oneself is a hard way to live but the most authentic and rewarding.

    Thanks for this reflection, Otto.
    Have a lovely week.

    1. I didn’t write about the social pressure but that is indeed an import part of the equation. We are suppose to do like everybody else, aren’t we! Thank you for a thoughtful comment, Lucile.

  6. This past Christmas, I watched a Norwegian-based film for the very first time: “Journey to the Christmas Star.” The girl in the movie had the utmost courage to search for something that held extreme significant meaning, even through the most treacherous ordeals of her journey. I think this parallels the thoughts in your post today. Life is a journey, a blank canvas for each of us, at the beginning—-by the end of the journey, let’s be sure to have a fabulous masterpiece, even it means taking the road less travelled. 🎨📷📖

    1. I haven’t seen the movie for a long time, but I think it does parallel by thoughts in this post. And, yes, let’s make a masterpiece out of our lives – but let us also define masterpiece ourselves. Thank you, Susan. By the way “Journey to the Christmas Star” is by far the best Norwegian movie, you should try some other ones as well…

  7. Some of us are born to be martyrs and look for the dark side of life!! Making the same wrong decisions over and over again! The older you get the more difficult things become imo. Just trying to work through things is not necessarily going to lead you to a victorious conclusion. For some it can do though.

  8. A very interesting read Otto and I couldn’t agree more. At the end of last year I realised I was taking the easy route and to be honest I was a bit bored with it. I could take endless photographs of this beautiful county and why not? The reason why not is because it wasn’t fulfilling me as a photographer. I needed something different to challenge me. I wasn’t about to give up taking photographs of the landscapes I love but I needed something extra. That’s when I became interested in vintage and not so vintage film cameras and getting involved in processing my own films. I’ve been choosing different subjects and this has really been expanding my horizons. I’d recommend it to anyone because when I come back to taking more landscape photographs, they will be all the better for my renewed interest and energy.

    1. What can I say? Besides I think you are spot on, and I think you do right to challenge yourself. As you say, your photographs will be different and better. Have fun with your vintage film cameras. As I wrote in one of your posts, I might follow you. 🙂

  9. I love how you correlate your title of “choose the hard path” with a newly married couple ~ apt. 🙂

    If life is simple and easy, then that person is shortchanging themselves and life. As you say, it is to be explored, felt and while it may be uncomfortable, the struggles are what brings greater emotions and greater highs. As you mentioned in your passion post, I think the passion for life can only really be created when you choose the right way of doing things, and as an old quote reminds us “the right way is often the most difficult path.” Cheers!

  10. Ho letto molto volentieri le tue parole e sono d’accordo. Se si vuole fare qualche cosa, non deve mancare la passione e soprattutto non bisogna scoraggiarsi alle prime difficoltà. Magari si inizia con la parte semplice, per poi avviarsi verso quella più dura, ma che alla fine sicuramente dona molte più soddisfazioni. Io spero di farcela e di essere sulla strada giusta, anche se ho ancora tantissimo da imparare.
    Un caro saluto, Patrizia

    1. Abbiamo tutti molto da imparare, ma per quanto vedo io, si sono sicuramente sulla strada giusta. Come dici tu, si parte con la parte più facile e passa poi quando siamo pronti. Come avete fatto. Grazie per il tuo commento, Patrizia.

  11. I love this post. You are a deep thinker Otto. I’ve often though about the hunter/gatherer instincts. I think while things might appear they have become easier in some ways, in some ways they are not. The primal instincts are still there and manifest in our modern world in both positive and negative ways. I do like how you take your thoughts toward art and how we need to grow and learn to get the reward. I’m always trying to get better and it’s in that process that I feel excitement, not just slapping up another of the same old thing (unless I’m desperate LOL).

    1. In your work, I clearly seen this process of always trying to get better, which I think i awesome. And, yes, you are quite right about the fact that things have become both easier and more difficult in modern life compared to how it was for the gatherer/hunter. Thank you for the comment, Laura.

  12. Just in time for the introspective season of Lent, another thoughtful and challenging post from you, Otto. Thank you. You know, I’m sitting in my office among colleagues who are all nice people but many are discouraged and defeatist. I’m not letting that get to me. I’m not constructing my life around a network of supposed limitations. Some things are obstacles to overcome, not reasons (or excuses!!!) to avoid the journey. That’s what’s important about my photography. I can look at a really great image I made and say, “That’s who I am. That’s what I want to continue to be.” Not a mere exploited office worker.

    1. You really said it very nicely: Some things are obstacles to overcome, not reasons (or excuses!!!) to avoid the journey. And, yes, be proud of your work. Remember all the lovely words it gets – among other places, in my previous blog post.

  13. One of the simplest and most concrete examples of the truth of what you say has to do with cooking. My grandmother was a wonderful cook. So was my mother. My grandmother still made the Swedish sausages and breads with recipes she brought from the “old country.” My mother would spend hours in the kitchen, making sweets or pastries that we loved.

    But a day came when things began to change. Instead of baking bread, we bought it at the store. Instead of making a roast and peeling potatoes, there were tv dinners. No one made a pie crust from scratch any more. It was too easy to buy one at the grocery.

    It does take more time to make a pie crust from scratch, and the shortcut can be tempting. But the end result of taking the time to work “from scratch” leads to a better result. Not only that, it sometimes turns out that the harder path can become the easier path. Today, I only have to dip out the flour and shortening, and mix it up. No need to get dressed, find my car keys, drive to the store and stand in line. That sounds hard!

  14. It is all about the journey, isn’t it?…both in life and art. So much more rewarding when you put your whole heart and soul into it, regardless of how hard it is.

  15. A thought-provoking post, Otto. In life, art or photography challenging oneself to stretch outside the easy path is what keeps you motivated and satisfied. Also, taking risks and not being afraid to fail. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  16. In my undergraduate days, we were assigned a book with the title, “Leisure is the Basis of Culture.” Your point is well taken, though, that release from a focus on survival shouldn’t lull us into TAKING it easy. Only now, in retirement, am I pursuing the passions that I neglected in my career of working at a desk job. I wish I had taken more risks earlier to do what I enjoy doing.

    1. I guess the saying better late than never, is somewhat relevant for you, then. I think it’s great that your are pursuing your passions now. Just enjoy doing so. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      1. On the “Should Have Done This Sooner” front: Red Axe Books in the UK s going to published my self-published book of humorous fictional letters: More Later: Lyle’s Letters from the University. The book had been rejected by 3 publishers before. I should have trusted my ability as a writer long before this.

  17. Kan bara hålla med och önskar att jag någon enda gång kunde välja den lätta vägen….
    Kunskapsinförskaffandet längs vägen är ju det man sedan har att använda vilket jag tror kommer att visa sig förr eller senare.
    Jag har verkligen haft stor behållning av dina senaste inlägg Otto.
    Massor med tack för att du delar med dig på ett så utmärkt och intressant sätt.
    Bästa Hälsningar

    1. Skulle vi ikke alle ønske å velge den lette veien – av og til i hvert fall. Men når det kommer til stykket, blir det mer spennende med større utfordringer og når ikke alt går av seg selv. 🙂 Takk for de hyggelig ordene, Monica. Det setter jeg veldig stor pris på.

  18. How beautifully you have said it Otto 🙂 For the artist his creations are as much a means to discover his own self as they are about expressing this thoughts. Can there ever be short cuts on this route to self-discovery?

    1. I don’t know about ever never, but I think the most rewarding path is certainly the harder one, exactly because it’s the way to discover you own self – as you say. Thank you for the comment, Uday.

  19. Well said Otto. Not easy to choose the hard path. Temptations are everywhere around us! But when we are able to go through that way, the hard one and make a few steps and realize to go in the good direction we feel it was worthwhile. And we go on…and if we feel the direction is not the good one we start again to look four another one…

  20. I do agree, but why we don’t choose longer road or make 10 circles around when we go our home from shop? We always shortcut our path, but it doesn’t make sense to make simple things diffucult

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