How often have you heard the phrase “Anything worth doing is hard”?
Whenever I struggled in something, I would complain, “Do I really need to do this? What’s the point?”
And 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 get 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 that something is difficult to master mean that it’s worth doing? The whole thing didn’t seem to quite make sense.
After all, we only have a limited amount of mental resources. Dedicating ourselves to one project means that 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. Today, let’s talk about two misconceptions when it comes to putting in effort and getting results.
Misconception #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.
But many times, 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 myself mistakenly thought that hard work equated to results.
When I first started writing articles, I wrote for an audience of zero. I kept hearing from other people that 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, it didn’t make sense. But still, I believed it and resisted the obvious strategy that 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, it’s usually because of one or more of these reasons:
- We want to prove to ourselves that we are capable.
- Finding an advantage seems unfair.
- 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 that if each person puts in the same amount of work, each person will 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 that 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?
Here’s the most commonly used phrase I hear: “I want to make it on my own.”
Someone I knew kept applying for engineering jobs. He would submit his resume over and over to different places, and 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 has been at the company for years now. Instead of seeing help as a sign as 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?
Misconception #2: A task must be worth doing because it’s difficult.
Have you ever felt motivated to complete a challenge that someone presented to you?
The gears in your head started to turn, and you thought to yourself, “I can do that!”
This happens especially to smart 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% 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.
But soon after stepping foot on campus, 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: 1) social pressure, and 2) achieving something difficult for the sake of the challenge.
If he had spoken to someone in the program or looked at other possibilities first, he might have saved himself a lot of time and hassle. Time and hassle that could have been put somewhere else.
So before you attempt to solve a problem next time, instead of asking, “How can I solve this?”, ask yourself: 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. Your labor will not always produce fruit.
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.
Want to become more productive? Then check out my guide How to Get Anything You Want.
Originally published at medium.com