Bibliophile | ‘The French Art of Not Trying Too Hard’ by Ollivier Pourriol

The French Art of Not Trying Too Hard
by Ollivier Pourriol
Profile Books

“Hard work has its own rewards” is a mantra often given to students, burdened by expectations that they have to succeed in school to achieve anything or be anyone. Learning a language, playing a musical instrument and working hard in a chosen sport are also meant to provide extra bonus points for the life journey.

French philosopher Ollivier Pourriol disagrees with this proposition and considers that all that effort is useless and can actually be counterproductive. He is not saying there is no point in making any effort at all but points out that some goals can only be gained indirectly. He cites ‘seduction’ as being more effective if one doesn’t try too hard.

Standing by the French laissez faire method of parenting, he gleans support for his argument from philosophers (from Plato to Sartre and from Descartes to Deleuze), artists, pianists, athletes and even tight rope walker Philippe Petit and deep sea diver Jacques Mayol.

Pourriol maintains that there is no preparation for life and the longer you hesitate, the harder it will be. “So you need to skip the warm-up. Watch your attitude. If you set off without a safety net, proudly, you learn how to live just as you learn how to ride a bike or a horse; by accepting the propulsion offered by life itself.”

Pourriol draws on some interesting observations; such as if you like what you do, you will go further than someone who dislikes the same thing (think maths). Not making an effort doesn’t necessarily mean not taking time to develop a skill because sometimes ease only comes after years of training (think tight rope walking).

This is not a light book filled with easy to grab little quotes. It is quite an extensive debate, as one would expect from a philosopher with extensive knowledge of his subject, but there are many gems to be found. My favourite is a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein – “When you feel yourself coming up against a problem, you need to stop thinking about it, otherwise you can’t get free of it.”

Lezly Herbert


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