The Power of Doing the Hard Thing

“If you do the things you need to do when you need to do them, then someday you can do the things you want to do when you want to do them.” ~ Zig Ziglar

“You will be uncomfortable.”

“You will be stretched both mentally and physically.”

I sat there and smiled to myself as I listened to our instructor.

“Some of you will fail,” he continued. His tone wasn’t ominous but a matter of fact. He was trying to reset our expectations.

“Great!” I thought to myself.

This was good news. Not because I wanted anyone else to fail, and not because I wanted to be uncomfortable. Rather, his introduction reinforced what I had known for years about this particular certification.

Getting it was going to be hard.

And that was the good news.

Over the years I have assumed a new attitude with respect to doing hard things. Instead of being deterred by them, I now seek them out.

Two Benefits Of Doing The Hard Thing

There are two benefits that accrue when you decide to do the hard thing.

First, doing the hard thing forces you to grow, inevitably becoming better than you used to be.

And second, doing the hard thing separates you from others who are unwilling to put in the effort.

I have learned over the years the value of both and how they can work to your advantage.

First, let’s define what a hard thing is.

A hard thing is any personal investment that requires a significant amount of extra effort over time.

Some examples include going back to finish college, getting your masters degree, completing that industry certification, or joining the board of an association.

Hard things don’t include time spent working on purely recreational hobbies, or other activities that are just for fun.

1. Becoming Better Than You Used To Be

There is infinite ease in sticking to the routine. After all, it’s comfortable!

But, personal growth can only happen when we stretch ourselves.

Here’s an example.

Imagine fitting in night and weekend classes at the University to your current schedule. Feels a bit tight, right?

Now imagine working those classes into your schedule for the next two years. And, add in the extra time for homework and group projects.

Going back to college is a hard thing.

But now imagine that you are at the end of the two years and you have a diploma in your hand. You have learned a lot, earned the degree, and are well-positioned for a promotion or a better job.

You have become better than you used to be. That’s the power of doing the hard thing.

2. Being Separate From Those Unwilling To Put In The Effort

The obvious tradeoff is that the hard thing will be difficult.

All hard things require short-term sacrifices. The sacrifice might be less time spent with your family, less income, or less flexibility with your schedule.

But it’s in making these sacrifices that you separate yourself from others.

Imagine being the only applicant for an open job that has advanced training, a graduate degree, or volunteer experience.

Putting in that extra effort is hard to do. And, it’s precisely because it’s hard that not many people will do it. Since relatively few people choose to do the hard thing, those that do tend to stand out.

Standing out always means more opportunities open up over time.

Strategies For Doing The Hard Thing

Now that we understand the benefits of doing the hard thing, here are a few strategies for finding and completing the hard thing in your life.

First, identify three hard things that are relevant to you. We are all at different stations in life. Take a moment to think about a few areas of opportunity in your life. Maybe you need to finish your degree, or maybe there is a training class coming up you would like to attend. Pick three and move on to the second step.

Second, pick the easiest hard thing from your list and determine the actual sacrifice needed. The goal is to get something done rather quickly that builds confidence and adds value. Don’t start with getting a four-year degree. Rather, start with something that can be completed within the next year.

Next, determine what the actual sacrifice will be. You might have to give up a few Saturdays to attend a class. Or maybe there will be a financial investment that will require you to live lean for a while. In any case, try to define exactly what that sacrifice is and whether you can make it work.

Third, get after it! There is no substitute for action. Whatever your hard thing is, it won’t get any easier if you wait. As my instructor said during my recent training, “there is no good time to start anything, there is only time.”

If you are feeling like you are in a rut, then the time is now to take action. Find the hard thing, make a plan to conquer it, and enjoy the work.

It won’t be easy, but that’s the point!


Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson is a Seattle area writer and creator of The Red Cabbage. TRC provides unique insights and rock-solid strategies for 30-somethings looking to accelerate in business and life. To connect with Jonathan, visit his website

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