Not Because It Is Easy...

3 min read

This was originally published on March 29th, 2017.

John F. Kennedy in his famous speech about NASA going to the moon stated "We do this thing not because it is easy, but because it is hard."

In his own way, JFK was stating that we as a nation were undertaking something because of the challenge it presented. At the time, for the purpose, this was a noble thing. Furthering ourselves, taking on a new frontier, expanding scientific knowledge and exploring what's out there are noble goals, and within that context it was right.

At one point last year I got my daily dose of Medium, which for whatever reason, I still haven't unsubscribed from, but the highlighted article was one from Benjamin P. Hardy entitled "If It Doesn't Suck, It's Not Worth Doing" - and my first thought was "bullshit." There are plenty of things that don't suck that are still worth doing. Of course, wanting to know what I disagreed with, I clicked the link and started perusing the article.

After reading the article, I'd have to say Mr. Hardy is wrong. The concept is presented in such a manner that an obstacle, a difficult one, it the penultimate driver for achievement. The challenge itself is the blocker, and moving past that challenge is the success. The article reads in such a way that if there is no challenge, there is no success. Examples: Jesse Itzler doing 100 pullups when thinking he had to stop at 8 because his body told him to, or crossfit devotees who have a target and are told not to quit until they're done.

These are both physical examples, but he expounds - and perhaps digresses - that the real takeaway is "Do something and don’t stop until it’s complete, no matter how long it takes." That's a far more sensible approach, but it doesn't explain the lead-in.

So what's the problem here? Well, eventually when reading one discerns the theme is that there needs to be commitment to and ownership of a task. If it's pullups, if it's crossfit, if it's potty training your dog, or launching a new app or website, the importance is in the commit - which, if you add the first third of the article to the last two thirds, means that it has to suck.

And that's where I really take issue: commitment doesn't suck, and the perception of commitment doesn't suck. There are always things in life, both personally and professionally, that are not fun. Some things suck, but not everything we commit to, as Mr. Hardy implies, "sucks." When things are difficult and required more perseverance, I've long been an advocate of something my Grandfather told me: "You don't have to like it... you just have to do it."

Further, and this is where I really rolled my eyes, is that he gets in to the generational blame game. Attempting to correlate "loving yourself for who you are" as "justification for mediocrity." Loving yourself and a lack of desire to excel has never been a generational problem other than it impacts every generation. My grandparents knew slackers, my parents knew slackers, I know slackers (and have been one) and I'm sure plenty of millenials both are and know slackers. That doesn't mean that (and this is a quote) that the "self-esteem movement of the 20th century is an enormous contributor to America's faltering success."

America's faltering success is tied to complacency, not an over-indulged sense of self-esteem, and to follow it up with stating America's phrase of choice is "Don't work too hard!" and that it's not common in other cultures is ridiculous and unsubstantiated.

Americans work harder, and longer, and are the focus of ridicule for many other countries and cultures because of our almost insane level of devotion to the concept of work and the reluctance to point ourselves to a healthy, temporary outlet.

I wanted to be able to read this article and find that it was just good common sense - and the title was a buzzfeed-worthy generalization. The result is that part of that (the buzzfeed part) is true, and the rest is misguided bullshit based on a generalization of underwork and over-valued self-worth.

People should work hard in my opinion, and they should take ownership; they shouldn't quit when things get tough, but it doesn't make this a culture of do-nothings. Instead, it attempts to de facto place blame on the population for the faults of those who came before, when such blame is hardly warranted.

In the end, the article is effectively a diatribe about the Mr. Hardy's perception that people are quitters: they quit because things get hard, and that they were taught that by 20th century softies because every kid's team was a winner at t-ball. So, again, "bullshit." Yes, people need to take more ownership, and yes, kids need to learn to lose so they can do so gracefully, and so they can learn to be resilient, but the idea that everyone has a shared fault, and it's because everything difficult sucks and that difficulty/suckiness makes it a worthy pursuit is hogwash.

Image of Stephen Sadowski

Stephen Sadowski

Leader focusing on quality, delivery, technical debt management, and leadership education about DevOps and SRE practices