We were doing an exercise today at Nobody Studios. “What is your reason for being here?”
It’s an interesting question to ask your team members, colleagues or even friends. Why do you do what you do? I knew my answer immediately.
I like doing hard things that have never been done before.
Our mission to create 100 companies over the next 5 years—and who knows how many more beyond that—sparked my excitement, curiosity and uncomfort zone into action.
Those missions that have high risk, low probability, and endless difficult situations that you’ll have to navigate through to succeed make me say, “Hell Yeah!”. I grab my bag, jump on the plane and go.
What Does it Mean To Do Hard Things?
Starting a business, creating a product or company culture for high performing teams is never easy.
Running my own business for seven years has helped me learn more about myself than any course, curriculum or certification could ever promise to offer or deliver.
Each step I’ve taken has intentionally tried to make the tasks in front of me harder—here’s why.
I never in my wildest dreams thought I would write a book. I had a solid history of D- in English Literature throughout school. Yet, I worked with a team and had the honor of co-creating Lean Enterprise with Joanne and Jez. One year after it launched I was already asking myself what would be my next challenge—could I write one on my own? What would it take to Unlearn?
Even building my own advisory practice, then contributing to an amazing startup at AgileCraft and getting acquired by Atlassian only encouraged me to go further, and cofound Nobody Studios as the place to create hundreds of companies in quick succession and help many more founders, entrepreneurs and innovators succeed.
Each new endeavor has been designed to find and extend the edges of my abilities. Hard things are my compass for growth, and growth and comfort cannot coexist.
Why Doing Hard Things Matters
In life, we all face difficult situations. Some of these difficult situations can be physical, emotional, or mental. It is important to know what you are capable of, where you’re currently at and even not capable of handling—only by taking action can you get that information.
Similarly, the only thing that can prepare you for doing hard things is doing them. There’s no secret sauce, certainly no shortcuts, only a path to plot each challenge to face down one at a time.
We will never know the true extent of our potential unless we are put in challenging situations and are forced to overcome them.
Anders Ericsson, author of Peak, described this method of extending our capabilities as a deliberate practice or highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance. Specific tasks are undertaken to overcome weaknesses, and performance is carefully monitored to provide clues for ways to improve it further.
The right kind of practice according to Ericsson works because it challenges your homeostasis—your natural desire to remain in the status quo—by getting you out of your comfort zone and forcing your body or brain to adapt in turn.
It’s not enough to practice the same skills over and over again. You’ve got to constantly attempt new, more challenging skills—advancing your expertise along the way with the intention of mastering it.
Working in Nobody meant I knew I would have to make tough decisions with a strong dose of discomfort, and show me what it takes to build a great organization and become a world-class leader.
No day is ever easy. But everyday I learn something new about something that is hard.
The Excuses We Tell Ourselves for Not Doing Difficult Tasks
However we often trick ourselves and get trapped at local maximums for our mindset, behavior and results.
The obstacles we put in front of ourselves may be internal, external, or contextual, but whatever their origin, they conspire to keep us firmly stuck in the status quo blind to new possibilities revealed by doing hard things.
One classic inhibitor is our desire to be correct. The force of our ego has a powerful influence over us. Ego is often the enemy of self-awareness, and it is triggered in situations of high stress and fear thus we avoid such situations.
To be smart is to demonstrate your breadth of knowledge and knowhow—the majority of organizations promote on that basis—hence the risk of embarrassment or being wrong raises barriers preventing us from engaging in anything inherently hard, new to us or where the results are unknown.
This limits our ability (or heightens our inability) to deal with uncertainty and risk—where all the new insights and innovation about ourselves exist.
Then our focus on reward and recognition. Praise from an early age. Knowing the correct answer in class. Corporate structures that reward doing it how it’s always been done and those who behave as they are told.
We need to embrace a new mindset and recognize that growth, discomfort and unlearning is an act of vulnerability—if unaddressed leads you to become vulnerable.
What We Need to Unlearn About Hard Things?
Yet, for most individuals, normalizing vulnerability let alone failure is the hardest thing of all.
Prevailing definitions of success are defined by achieving what you want through hard work, always knowing the correct answer, and getting it right the first time.
Perfection is impossible—what is needed is striving for excellence. Seek bold challenges and try.
It’s also important to know that you will not always be in a happy place. You will have to go through difficult times in order to grow as a person. It’s important to know that you are strong enough to get through these times. Build strong relationships and support systems to get you through.
I think back to quitting my last “proper” job, moving to a new country to start a business with a group of people I admired. Six weeks in I knew it was not going to work out. I was heartbroken. Ashamed. Even lost. Why was I such a fool? What would people think, say or see me as?
The truth is they didn’t think any of the worst thoughts I told myself. People shared how inspired they were because I took action, backed myself and made a bold bet. If anything, that encouragement has only helped me back bigger, and bolder bets in my life.
Do accept there will be tough times where it feels like there is no one else to turn to for help, but there are always people out there who will be willing to lend a hand if they know that they are needed.
Keep them close, and be there for them when they need you.
How Do You Start Doing Harder Things?
Hard tasks become easier by starting. And starting becomes easier by making the first step small.
Create momentum and a sense of success quickly by breaking big hard problems into smaller steps with faster feedback cycles. Small successes help you feel competent by making progress.
Even when you feel boxed in, challenge yourself to create more options. When you write down as many options as you can think of (as crazy as some might feel) it gives you a sense of autonomy by acknowledging that you always have a choice. Even when you’ve been told what to do, you can choose how you think about it or choose not to do it and accept the consequences.
Always keep the people you’re hoping to help top of mind. Regularly connect with the people you want to affect. Listen to and remember their stories—and how it connects to the mission you are struggling for. Such positively to the fuel to keep you going, one step at a time.
As a solopreneur I wanted to create some from scratch to support my family. As an entrepreneur I wanted to help people bring their ideas to life in Nobody.
Regardless of what your purpose is you’ll have to deal with setback after setback on that mission. But it also makes the success that much sweeter when you achieve it.
Take a Moment Today to Reflect on Your Hard Things & Consider Doing Them
We learn most about ourselves when we are faced with adversity. Knowing how we react in these tough times—even if we don’t like what we see—makes us better.
Trying to avoid challenging situations makes dealing with them even harder over time. Hard things help us improve, find the edges of our abilities, and face uncertainty with excellence.
We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but we can prepare for it by doing hard things today.
The question is, “What is your reason for being here?” I hope it’s something hard, and you go after it. Doing hard things has been the best advice I’ve ever given myself.