How often have you heard the phrase, “Anything worth doing is hard?" Whenever I struggled with something, I would complain, “Do I really need to do this? What's the point?”
Of course, someone would respond by telling me something along those lines. It seemed as if I was supposed to take pride in hardship. Hard work, after all, is seen as a necessary evil to get anywhere.
Maybe people are right. To become good at anything, you have to be willing to do what most people won't. You need to be willing to persist for a long time before you see results. On the other hand, I couldn't help but wonder about this phrase.
What exactly does it mean? What fits into the definition of being worthwhile? Does the fact something is difficult to master mean it's worth doing? The whole thing didn't seem to make sense. After all, we only have a limited amount of mental resources. Dedicating ourselves to one project means we take away energy that could be spent working on something else.
I think that while this phrase sounds nice, it could be misinterpreted and used the wrong way. Let's talk about two misconceptions when it comes to putting in effort and getting results:
1. If something seems too easy, there must be something wrong with the method.
We get skeptical when we hear of an easier way to solve a problem. Sometimes, our feelings are justified. An advertisement that promises instant weight loss will send up red flags in our head.
Many times, however, it's worth reconsidering our current strategy. If we've been doing the same thing over and over, hoping to get a different result, isn't it worth taking a step back and evaluating what has (and hasn't) worked? Don't get me wrong; I've also mistakenly thought hard work equated to results.
When I first started writing articles, I wrote for an audience of zero. I kept hearing from other people it was important to promote my work. Even though I knew the strategies, I didn't bother applying them. So, for a while, I kept writing more and more for an audience of zero. And zero times 50 is still zero.
I figured that if people really liked what I had to say, they would find me. I just had to work hard enough and things would happen automatically. Looking back, my thought patterns didn't make sense. Still, I believed them and resisted the obvious strategy people kept mentioning.
So, why do we do it? Why do we resist taking the easier route and make things harder on ourselves? Based on what I've seen and experienced, it's usually because of one or more of these reasons:
1. We want to prove to ourselves we are capable.
2. Finding an advantage seems unfair.
3. We want to do something different for the sake of being "innovative."
There are certain ideas about success that hinder our progress. One of them is the idea of fairness. Since an early age, we're led to believe if each person puts in the same amount of work, each person will generally get the same level of results.
Of course, things aren't so black and white in the real world. If you've applied for a competitive position, you know getting hired can be incredibly difficult, or it can be very easy. More often than not, getting a position depends on who you know.
Many people resist this idea. Why? The most commonly used phrase I hear is, “I want to make it on my own.” Someone I knew kept applying for engineering jobs and didn't hear anything back. He would submit his resume over and over to different places. Even though he had strong credentials, he never heard anything back.
For months, he spun his wheels in frustration. Someone offered to connect him with a hiring manager at a global-sized firm, but he didn't feel it was right to accept help. It wasn't fair.
In the end, he took the referral, and he has now been at the company for years. Instead of seeing help as a sign of weakness, he eventually saw it as a better way to achieve a result he wanted. So, the next time you resist using a strategy that can get you from A to B, consider the source of your skepticism. Is the solution too good to be true, or are your internal beliefs holding you back?
2. A task must be worth doing because it's difficult.
Have you ever felt motivated to complete a challenge someone presented to you? The gears in your head started to turn, and you thought to yourself, “I can do that.” This happens frequently to smart, ambitious people. When they see a problem, they want to tackle it and set things straight (or at least try to), even if it's not worth dealing with at all.
Often, we waste our time on something that's unimportant. We might not even take the time to evaluate what we need to do. Just because there's a problem doesn't mean it needs solving. For example, I knew someone who wanted to study medicine. In order to become one of the 9 percent who received an acceptance letter to a competitive program, it meant putting in years of preparation, tests and extracurriculars.
Eventually, his hard work paid off. One spring morning, a letter of admission arrived in the mail. The pressure was off. It was going to be a great summer, and he couldn't wait to begin school in September. Soon after stepping foot on campus, however, he began to second-guess his decision. After a semester, he decided to drop out because it "wasn't right for him."
So, why did he spend so much time preparing for a program and career that wasn't right for him? I think it narrows down to two things: social pressure and achieving something difficult for the sake of the challenge.
Before you attempt to solve a problem next time, instead of first asking, “How can I solve this?” Ask instead, "Should I be tackling this?" If you can spend time upfront answering the latter question, you'll give yourself the opportunity to spend your time where it's worth the most. It's true that things worth achieving are hard, but that doesn't mean difficult goals are worth achieving.
When possible, avoid the obstacles. Yes, anything worthwhile will not be easy. There will be obstacles. But sometimes, there are ways to circumvent the most difficult aspects by asking for help, studying what someone else did or answering whether you should be solving the problem in the first place.
So, first ask, "Is this a problem I need to solve?" If so, what's the best way to do so? You don't need to be unnecessarily clever. You don't need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes a simpler approach will get you to the same destination.