A couple years ago, I had a week of severe depression.  I’d been depressed before, but never that depressed.  This particular time, I was stopped in my tracks, as if I had been overtaken by a dark storm cloud of debilitation.  I was able to eat some, but generally, all I was able to do for days and days was to lay still.  And sleep.  And cry.  I cried a lot.

After about 4 days of this came a day when I had an appointment or two, and I really needed to get my act together. I was still so debilitated.

Starting and running a business is hard work.  Some days and weeks it feels so hard that seems impossible.  “Success” seems elusive and we often hear catchy phrases like hustle, up-leveling, pushing edges, dynamic growth, etc. all focused on motiving us to do even more. Sometimes it feels hard enough to make a go of it day to day… add severe depression into the mix, and my spirit quickly made a descent into what felt like a dark hell.

There is, however, a huge energetic difference between working hard and trying hard. Sharing the experience which brought me this lesson and how it’s served me in my relationship to my business – and life might really be supportive to you too.


I did the only thing I knew to do in such a lost and helpless state, and that was to do the practice of Remembrance.  I sat on my meditation cushion and mat and I began the practice.

Deep breathing. Noticing. Connecting to my heart.  Calling out to the Divine through the open doorway of my heart.

And I sat there.

And sat some more.

Until I said angrily, under my breath, “Where are you?” I was asking the question to the Divine, because for days, I’d felt so abandoned, so lost, so helpless, so forsaken.

Much to my surprise I received a “reply” somehow, somewhere deep in my heart, “I’m here.” It wasn’t an auditory response – it was a felt response – like I could hear it with my soul. I’m not one to be quick to believe I’m receiving response from the Universe… but this clearly wasn’t me.

After taking a breath, I curtly responded, “Where have you been?”

The response was, “Right here.”

I was becoming more and more frustrated and resentful every second and I retorted, “You’re here now, but you haven’t been with me this past week.  Where were you?

“I have been here.  I’ve always been here.”

I burst into angry tears saying, “Fuck you… you have not been with me this past week, during my depression.”

“I was there.”

“HOW?  How were you there? I never felt you.  HOW were you with me?” I said with indignant anger.

“I wasn’t with you during your depression.”

Now I felt like I was being played with and my anger grew further saying, “You just said you were. Which is it, were you with me or weren’t you?  How the fuck were you with me in my depression?”

And the response was, “I wasn’t with you during your depression…. I was the depression.”

In that moment, the cloud of despondency, helplessness and debilitation resolved itself into form and was unleashed through me in the form of tears – a massive, massive flow of tears for the next 10 minutes.  There was a great energetic releasing.

When I was able to speak in my heart again, I asked, “Why? Why would you show up that way for me?  Why would you do that?”

“Because you wouldn’t listen any other way.  You haven’t been listening.”

“Why so strong?  Why so long?  Why so hard? Why?”

“Because you wouldn’t stop any other way.  I needed you to stop until you were ready to hear me and listen.”

“What the fuck do I need to listen to?  What are you trying to tell me that’s so important?”

“You don’t have to try so hard.”


“You don’t have to try so hard all the time.”

And without further explanation, it all became very clear.  Those words were reflective of how I was being in the world for the past eight months to a year – maybe my whole life. I truly believe the Divine had shown up – stopping me in my tracks, so that I would listen and learn the lesson:

You Don’t Have to Try So Hard

My whole life, not only have I had a stellar work ethic, but I always added a whole bunch of other shit to it.  I added:

  • Pressure
  • Perfection
  • Neediness
  • Attachment
  • Sensitivity
  • Expectation
  • Resistance
  • Overachieving
  • People pleasing
  • Insecurity
  • Powerlessness
  • etc., etc., etc.

As I said at the outset, it’s one thing to work hard and even push sometimes… it’s another thing entirely to work hard with the added pressure of doing it “right,” the addiction to perfection, the need for approval and recognition, sensitivity if it wasn’t received, insecurity if there was a lack of communication.  BLAH!!!!  It’s exhausting just writing about it.

I want to invite you to examine what you’ve been doing lately.  Take a few minutes and do the following:

  1. Write down a list of the top 10 things currently on your to-do list (you can define “top 10” however you like).  Include things that seem easy and things that really challenge you.
  2. Next to the task, write down if the task is actually difficult to accomplish (e.g.: running a 2-minute mile) or, if it feels difficult to accomplish (e.g.: addressing conflict).
  3. If it feels difficult to accomplish – check in with your heart (or the list above) and see if you can determine what you’re adding to the task that makes it feel so difficult.

What you identify in step number three of the list above is the stuff that we all work through, push through, and with which we try so hard and it’s this stuff that I was guided to let go of.  It’s this stuff that I encourage you to let go of.

Active Practice

I still have to actively practice this.  Take this blog post, for instance.  I hadn’t written it for quite a while after I told myself that I wanted to. I sat down to write it several times and it never got written – despite the fact that I was trying really hard to give it birth.

Why was it so hard to do, and why was I having to try so hard to do it?

Using the process above – this is what it looked like for me:

  1. The task: Write a blog post
  2. Actually or Feels Difficult: Feels difficult
  3. What am I adding to the task?  Perfection – I have to do it right or not at all. How do I make sure people like it?  What if they don’t? Who am I to write this? What if this isn’t helpful? I probably won’t be able to articulate it clearly. What if it’s too long? Is this really a good lesson? Etc.

I have been adding a lot to this blog post. What I was adding – all the trying was making me miserable – and in the meantime, it wasn’t getting done.

Until I remembered the lesson, “You don’t have to try so hard.”

Due to my extensive practice following that guidance the past couple years, I let go of everything I was adding to this otherwise simple task.  I know how to write and am a pretty good writer – not the best, and definitely not perfect – but I’m a good writer. I enjoy writing. And some people will like it.  Some won’t. That’s okay. This has been one of the big lessons of my life – of course it will help others.  And, who defines “right” and “long” anyway? Let it be what it is.  Done.

And so… here it is.  This article is done.

Whenever I feel my being tighten up and my stress level increase, it’s my trigger to stop, look at what I’m doing and remind myself, “You don’t have to try so hard.”  And in almost all cases, it suddenly gets much, much, much easier (and fun).

And so, my questions for you are – if you’ve done the exercise above – what are you adding to your work, tasks and life that cause you to have to try so hard to accomplish them? For what can you can give yourself permission to “not try so hard?” What can you let go?

I’d love to hear your responses in a comment below. 



P.S.: I originally wrote this in September of 2015, and posted it on another site.  I’m reposting it here for my audience.  The practice of this lesson continues, and has endlessly supported me the past 5+ years.  Finding and remembering the harmonious place between/with effort and ease is delicate and subtle.  May we all remember that we don’t have to try so hard.  I’d love to hear your experience with this practice.

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Showing 14 comments
  • Wendy Yacboski

    Hello, Steve –

    Thank you so much for your transparent article. I can’t respond to the practice, as yet, as I only just finished reading your article. I so very much appreciate that you are sharing this powerful experience with your audience. I can definitely relate to much of what you have said. I plan to learn from your learning. Thank you, Steve. Warmly, Wendy

    • Steve Mattus

      Thank you, Wendy. I so appreciate it! Have you had a chance to practice? Curious how that went for you!

  • Sue


  • Daniela Mannucci

    I had read this post before – a few years ago and today, it still affects me just like when I read it for the first time. So deep and so moving. Thank you, Steve, you touch my heart so much.

    The exercise is simple and clear and I would say that it pointed exactly to why I still find myself ‘trying to do things perfectly’ – simply because I am at times deeply worried about being rejected.

    And as I was reading through this post I thought about “ok, I’ll breathe and not try so hard to not be rejected by trying to do things perfectly” and just offer to those who are open to accepting. And like yourself, Steve, I know some people just won’t like what I am offering. And, can I allow that to be ok just for a few hours today until I forget again? I usually forget!! 🙂

    • Steve Mattus

      So much empathy about trying to “do things perfectly,” Daniela. Can I allow that to be okay… just for a few hours. That’s a great way to step into this. Beautiful!

  • Beth Barany

    I so love this, Steve. Ah, just a big sigh and release of breath. I want to share it. I know it will benefit others.

    As for my reflection, I see how I put a lot of pressure on myself to doing it BIG! when sometimes it’s the small steps that count and feel so satisfying. I’ll reflect more on the places I try so hard and bring some light and love to them.

    Thank you!

    • Steve Mattus

      Thanks for sharing, Beth! The small steps are ALWAYS what count because that’s what turns into the BIG stuff. We usually can only see the big stuff though… and in our society, the big stuff is what gets recognized and acknowledged. So, if we can bring our attention to each of the small steps along the way, it really can help us to feel more embodied and present with all that we are already doing.

      I love that you’re going to bring some light and love to the places where you’re trying so hard. Thank you!

  • Miriam Linderman

    Thank you SO much for this article. Such a wonderful revelation through your dialogue with the Divine. It made complete sense to me and it was so profound.

    I found the questions so helpful, touching and informative. I made my top 10 list and found that without exception, PRESSURE is everywhere and is the first feeling I notice in the chest and solar plexus. It has another dimension to it. FEAR. Pressure feels like something is chasing me, or more like my life is at stake. I felt into the perspective of “you don’t have to try so hard” and the relief valve loosened just a a bit. Then I applied the lens of “it’s not so serious, it’s not life and death” and “make it lighter and more playful.” But none of those, though good ideas, changed this for me. What changed it was just noticing what I was adding.

    For getting things done, the comment above it true and mostly the tasks are simple. Where they involve people, reaching out, etc. then everything is at play! Pressure-Perfection-Neediness-Attachment-Sensitivity-Expectation-Insecurity.

    A fantastic revelation for me. I am going to use this often. I don’t need to solve it. Being in touch with the feelings seems to take care of it quite well. Something new to reflect on. Thank you!

    • Steve Mattus

      YES, Miriam…. so so so good. Just noticing what additional “stuff” you’re bringing to it… the pressure and fear. Yes! Bringing love to that, and simply noticing that you’re bringing those things in the first place is the “first domino” that can help things dissolve back into Love and ease. Fantastic!!!

  • Sarah

    I can so relate with this, Steve. So profound! I consider myself a recovering perfectionist, and have struggled with some pretty debilitating depression along with it at various times in my life. Remembering that we can go easier on ourselves, and allow ourselves to be as we are is an ongoing practice for me. In some areas I have so much more space than I used to, and others, well, there’s still room to be more gentle on myself, and allowing of other’s imperfections. But that’s okay. It will come in time. I always appreciate your sharing of your humanness. It is very healing to remember we are not alone in these things.

    • Steve Mattus

      Sounds like you’ve done lots of work, Sarah. Thank you for sharing! Yes… you are never along in these things. I’m so glad that my practice and insights were a helpful reminder. 🙂

  • Laura

    THANK YOU. I scrolled through so many blogs looking for something that resonated with what I was feeling. This. What you shared. It hit hard for me. I had looked up why do I try so hard at everything in life? And I realize it’s not the trying or the hard work, it’s everything else I attach to it… now that I have this insight I just need to learn how to let it help me. Thanks again, Laura

    • Steve Mattus

      Laura – thank you so much for your comment and sharing your experience here with me. It’s incredibly meaningful to hear that my experience was supportive for you. One of the little practices that I still use many days as I accomplish something is simply bringing awareness to how “hard” the task feels, and then inviting myself to be “light” and “easy” with it. I ask, “What would it feel like to be relaxed and casual with this task? How would I approach this if I felt peaceful and free?” Often, this helps shift things, and then it doesn’t feel like I have to try so hard to access those feelings I long for, like ease, spaciousness, and even feeling loved. I hope that the insight continues to help guide you. Simply remembering that you don’t HAVE to try so hard is half the battle. I send you all my best.

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