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Doing Hard Things

Monday, Jul. 16th 2018

We all have to do hard things.

We have to deal with hard health things. Family things. Emotional things. Financial things. House things. Car things.

Lots of things in life are hard.

And then there are work things that are hard. Difficult conversations, difficult projects, difficult bosses, difficult co-workers. Things not going as planned, promotions that did not go through, jobs that got eliminated. Hard things like mistakes and failures, and goals and plans just not working out or being much harder than anticipated.

I’ve found that we generally do all that we can to avoid hard things. Maybe it’s because of the culture we’re developing around “epic fails”, a trend on social media with thousands of videos and memes full of mistakes and crashes.

Most of us want to avoid anything like an epic fail. So we tend to avoid hard things and focus on doing things that are easier with greater chances of success.

But there is a problem with running away from hard things. When we avoid hard things, we are missing the opportunity to learn important skills like resilience, courage, and confidence.

These skills have to be earned in the fire of doing hard things. There are just are no other ways to learn them. Here are three specific skills that tend to come along with doing hard things:

Courage. It takes courage to take on hard things. To plow forward even when things are tough.

It takes courage to venture ahead when the future is unknown. History is full of individuals, men and women, who have ventured ahead when the future was not clear. We’ve all read stories of inventors, explorers, entrepreneurs, and others who had the courage to move ahead even when the way ahead was hard or unclear.

It takes courage to volunteer for hard things.  Some of the strongest leaders I know have volunteered to lead difficult projects. Or volunteered to have the most difficult conversations. One leader knew he needed to have a very difficult conversation with the CEO. So he brought a hard hat to the conversation. Humor helps!

Some time ago I heard a quote that is a good reminder: “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are made for”. We are all ships in this life…and we can choose whether we stay in the harbor of easy things or go out into the unknown, maybe hard, things.

Confidence. One of the best by-products of dealing with hard things is that your perspective changes. After you have dealt with hard things, over time, what seemed impossible may not seem as impossible in the future.  What initially may seem really hard may not seem quite as hard when you consider the hard things that you have already done.

This is a particular competitive advantage at work. When hard things present themselves, those who have already done hard things tend to feel more confident—and are likely to be more successful as they deal with the new hard things.

Resilience.  The ability to bounce back after dealing with hard things—and things that may have not worked out entirely well– is known as resilience. It includes the gift of not overestimating the difficulty of the hard things and not underestimating your capacity to overcome the challenges associated with the hard things. 

Resilience tends to be related to seeing setbacks as temporary, local, and changeable, and viewing mistakes as opportunities to learn. It also means addressing the many perils of perfectionism, focusing on what you can influence and control, and learning to manage your emotions as you work on hard things.

These three skills take practice to learn—and that practice can only come from doing hard things. One of the biggest reasons that we value “experience” so much in looking at job candidates, or individuals to lead teams, is that they have had practice in doing hard things.

So if these skills are important to you, look for the hard things. Only by doing them can you really grow.

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Leading People Partners

Leading People Partners, LLC
Email: todd@leadingpeoplepartners.com