[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
I've been thinking a lot lately about the benefit of doing hard things, and my half-baked conclusion is that we should all do more hard things. Why? You'll be happier for it. You'll gain a sense of pride. Pride boosts self-esteem, which is currently (thanks to our current pandemic) skyrocketing downward. There is no guidebook to doing the hard thing, either. No motivational video to get you up everyday and keep you grinding away. If you do the hard thing often enough, you won't find it so hard anymore. And you might feel confused by the preponderance of people shying away from hard things. There is a subtle but stark divide between these two populations: those who do hard things and those who don't. One is not inherently better than the other, but I'd argue that the former is happier.
When I was still in high school, my guidance counselor asked me what I'm scared of. "Being normal," I answered. "Being complacent." There is no satisfaction in complacency. It is comfortable sure, but it's comfortable in the way a warm sweater is comfortable in a room that starts out frigid and slowly increases in temperature. First, you are cozy. Then a little uncomfortable, but nothing too noticeable. Before you know it though, you're suffocating and you're not sure how you got there, or why you even wanted the sweater in the first place, or (more importantly) why everyone around you is still wearing a sweater. They must be sweltering, right? Doesn't anyone else feel this?
Benjamin E. Mays said, "The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities."
I had a pretty poignant realization the other week, when out on a date with yet another hopeless dude. I can't stand normalcy. I can't be with someone normal. More importantly, I can't be around someone who does not push me to be better, every day. This is a tall order. "We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with" is old news, but it's true. When I left my fiance years ago, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I could breathe again. I felt free. Now, I'll be damned if I let anyone zap my energy or get in the way of my hard things. I am scared of becoming complacent, and this, sometimes, require that I be a bitch.
Doing the hard thing might necessitate a bit of bitchiness sometimes. You'll need to say no to someone who takes it personally. You will upset someone who requires your energy when you're simply too busy, or too tired, or in the middle of doing your hard thing. You're going to feel lonely, sometimes, while doing the hard thing, and then question why you're doing the hard thing to begin with. I've felt this while running through mountains alone, training for races I've also done alone. I've felt it while cooped up in my bedroom working on this blog, or writing a poem, or trying to figure out how the fuck to market both of them. I've felt strongly inclined, sometimes, to just stop. Drink some wine. Watch a movie. Sometimes, stopping is necessary and restorative. But always, I feel called back to my hard things. I need to be creative. I need to move my body. Without the hard things, rest is not as restful and comfort feels lazy and gross.
When doing your own hard thing, recognize that there is no end. If you were to reach an end, you'd likely find a new hard thing. We are, as humans, dissatisfied with endings. Recognize too, that you will not accomplish anything in a day or even a week or even, maybe, a year. Hard things take time. Mastery takes time. I run and write nearly every day. I write terrible things; ideologically vapid and grammatically unsound. I have awful workouts where my body feels like trash and my mind is fatigued. Sometimes, my body fails me but I know it will bounce back. Bodies do not remain broken, and hard things do not blossom overnight.
When asked my "worst" trait in job interviews my answer is always, "impatience." I would like to find a result today. Now, please. I would like to reach my destination already, but then I would only have to find a new one. Doing the hard thing can be like that sometimes. It can feel like endless waiting, endless work, and endless struggle. That's the point.
When we do hard things, we are impervious to the ire, shame, or disgust, of others. We know who we are, because we do the hard thing and the hard things gives us confidence. We almost feel impervious. Untouchable. But not in a tired, egotistical way. In a way that is calm and collected. Hard things will make you that way, calm and collected and sure of yourself. Other people might wonder what your secret is. How you've "done it." What did you do to get to this place of surety and calm? You can say, "I do this hard thing, every day, and sometimes I hate it but sometimes I love it, but it's taught me to persevere. You should find your own hard thing, but you'll have to do it every day, and sometimes you'll hate it, but sometimes you'll love it, and then you can persevere, too." Some people might take this advice, begin a hard thing, and quit the moment it gets hard. Some people will take this advice, being a hard thing, and keep going. They know, deep down, the truth of the hard thing. Have seen it enough times to know that it works.
I felt compelled to write about hard things in a general sense because everyone's hard thing is different. And once you do a hard thing long enough, it might become less hard, and less hard, until you are a master. Not everyone can reach mastery, and not everyone should. I felt compelled to write about hard things now, at the close of a year that has been, by most standards, incredibly hard. Many might consider a hard year the worst time to take up a hard thing, but I think the opposite is true. I think it's the perfect time, because life will always be hard and doing the hard thing will only prepare you to handle life better. With more calmness and surety. With more confidence and grace. With the knowledge that you can, in fact, handle it. That you can, in fact, persevere through hard things because you've done it now, every day, for as long as you can remember.
P.S. Read Tina Viju's Medium article entitled, "When In Doubt, Do The Hard Thing," here. Read how to motivate yourself to do the hard thing here, or watch a semi-funny video about doing hard things here.