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Embracing the Hard Way

  • People

In sports, the mantra “no pain, no gain” is drilled into us by our coaches. They remind us that true progress requires hard work, perseverance, and sometimes a bit of suffering. This philosophy, however, seems to be losing its grip in our everyday lives and work environments. We are increasingly gravitating towards a future where the path of least resistance is the norm. But what do we lose when we avoid the hard way? Are we heading towards a sea of blandness, devoid of the lessons and resilience that only hard knocks can teach?

Last week my thoughts centred around how Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. The reason I believe that doesn’t work for me is because I prefer to do things the ‘Hard Way’ and expect that of those around me which sets a very high bar.

The Hard Way Defined

What does it mean to do things the hard way? It’s not about inefficiency or wasting time. It’s about choosing a path that requires effort, patience, and sometimes struggle, because of the value found in the journey itself. It’s about finding purpose and pride in the toil and the blood, sweat, and tears that come with it. It’s about the sense of accomplishment that comes from knowing “I did that,” and not just “it got done.”

When offered advice and guidance from a more senior member of staff, family member or friend, people often assume that when you don’t follow their advice, you’re choosing to do things the hard way. This can stem from a few common misconceptions:

Belief in One Right Way: Many people believe there’s a single best way to accomplish something, often based on their own experiences. When someone doesn’t follow this perceived “best way,” it can seem like they’re deliberately opting for a more difficult path.

Underestimating Personal Preferences: Individual preferences and values play a huge role in decision-making. What might seem hard or inefficient to one person could be enjoyable or meaningful to another. For instance, someone might prefer washing dishes by hand instead of using a dishwasher because they find the process meditative or satisfying.

Experience vs. Advice: People often learn best through personal experience. There’s a unique value in discovering things firsthand, which can lead to deeper understanding and growth. Sometimes, advice might not fully resonate until one has had their own experiences to compare it against.

Different Goals and Priorities: Different people have different goals. One person might prioritise efficiency, while another might value the journey and the lessons it brings. What seems like the hard way to one person might be the most rewarding way to another.

Experiencing Things for Yourself

Choosing to experience things firsthand isn’t about deliberately taking the harder path; it’s about seeking personal growth, understanding, and fulfilment. Here’s why this approach can be beneficial:

Personal Growth: Experiencing challenges directly can lead to greater personal development and resilience. You learn to navigate difficulties and build problem-solving skills that aren’t as effectively developed through second-hand advice.

Authentic Understanding: Firsthand experiences provide a level of understanding that second-hand advice often cannot. You get to see all the nuances and complexities involved, which can be crucial for making informed decisions in the future.

Unique Insights: By experiencing things yourself, you might discover unique insights and methods that differ from conventional advice. These insights can be incredibly valuable and lead to innovation and personal satisfaction.

Ownership of Decisions: When you make choices based on your own experiences, you take full ownership of those decisions. This ownership can increase your confidence and commitment to the path you’ve chosen.

Valuing Personal Experience

Valuing personal experience can be particularly difficult in a work relationship where we are being measured on efficiency and effectiveness metrics but what if there is another way, a better way to do things that we have been blindsided to all this time.

How is it that in a world brimming with automation, best practices, cutting-edge apps, hardware, and AI like never before, we still struggle to provide individuals the opportunity to truly be themselves?

The Satisfaction of Hard Work

Consider a simple example: sweeping leaves versus using a leaf blower. The leaf blower is efficient and quick, but there’s a unique satisfaction in the rhythmic motion of sweeping, the physical exertion, and the visible progress of a clean path emerging from a cluttered one. The end result might be the same, but the pride in a job done manually is a different feeling altogether. It’s about more than just the output; it’s about the journey and the personal investment in the task.

If anyone wants to buy a good as new leaf blower let me know. The kids thought it was the best Father’s Day present money could buy. I guess they don’t quite understand me yet.

The Risk of Blandness

In our pursuit of efficiency and ease, we risk losing more than we gain. Automation and convenience can lead to a life devoid of challenge, where we never have to dig deep or face adversity. Without these experiences, how do we develop resilience? How do we learn to cope with setbacks or failures if everything comes too easily? The hard knocks of life teach us valuable lessons, build character, and help us grow.

I grew up in a home with alcoholic and abusive parents. While this was not a path I chose, nor one I would wish upon anyone, I wouldn’t change it for anything. Every difficult day, every struggle, and every drive to improve and build a better life all stem from those experiences. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them, and despite the hardships, I am grateful for the life lessons they provided.

The Value of Struggle

There is a term for those who prefer to take the hard way: “voluntary hardship.” These are individuals who intentionally choose more challenging paths because they recognise the intrinsic value of struggle. They understand that the process of overcoming obstacles is what makes achievements meaningful. It’s not about masochism or inefficiency; it’s about a deeper understanding of what it means to accomplish something significant.

I never knew there was a term for what most people think is odd about me. “Why would you choose to do that to yourself, just use the damn leaf blower, get a gardener, get a cleaner, buy a better car, upgrade your holiday accommodation.” The list goes on.

I’m genuinely content with my decision to walk the hard path and take pride in choosing voluntary hardship. I used to believe that opting for the tough route was a form of self-punishment stemming from low self-esteem. Pushing myself to work harder than anyone else was my way of proving my worth.

Putting a positive spin on it I know realise choosing voluntary hardship is often more about seeking growth, fulfilment, and understanding than about self-punishment. It’s a proactive way to build resilience, find meaning, and achieve personal goals. While it involves embracing challenges, the rewards of voluntary hardship can be profound and life changing.

Resilience Through Adversity

Resilience is forged in the fires of adversity. When we face challenges head-on, we learn to adapt, to innovate, and to persevere. These experiences shape us, giving us the strength to face future challenges with confidence. Without adversity, we might become complacent, lacking the drive to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones.

While I’m not suggesting that broken homes are necessary for building resilience, I firmly believe that involving kids in team sports can significantly help. There are few better structured environments for building resilience than on a sports field. Of course, unless you’re Manchester City, where it seems you can buy your way through challenges.

The Desire for Purpose

In the search for efficiency and ease, we might be sacrificing more than just our will and desire. We might be losing our sense of purpose. There is a deep-seated need in humans to find meaning in our efforts. When everything is made too easy, we lose the opportunity to experience the profound satisfaction that comes from overcoming a difficult challenge.

Before I sold my accountancy practice in 2019, I had reached a point where it ran seamlessly without my involvement. I had accomplished everything I set out to do, achieving the pinnacle that so many aspire to: a business that operated with minimal input from its owner, leaving me with abundant time and freedom. However, this turned out to be a nightmare. The lack of purpose became the biggest factor in my struggle with depression, causing immense personal suffering and hardship for my family.

Conclusion: Embrace the Hard Way

In conclusion, doing things the hard way has its merits. It builds resilience, instils a sense of pride, and provides valuable lessons that easy paths cannot. As we move towards a future dominated by convenience and efficiency, it’s important to remember the value of effort and struggle. So, next time you have a choice, consider taking the harder path. You might just find that the journey, with all its challenges and setbacks, is where the real gains are made.

By embracing the hard way, we keep alive the spirit of perseverance and resilience, ensuring that we continue to grow and thrive in an ever-changing world.