On Doing Hard Things

Talent. Challenge. Growth mindset. Development. Doing hard things.

These are buzz words I explore almost every day at work as a Talent Development Manager. There’s another blog somewhere in my head on how I accidentally tripped and fell into this line of work. But for right now, let’s just say that I really enjoy watching people use their gifts and abilities, expand the scope of what they think is possible, and do hard things that make them better people.

Often hard things are thrust upon us by force or the choices of others. We are called to decisions we’d rather not make, or lessons we’d rather not learn. Death, divorce, abuse, job loss, accidents, illnesses. I’ve been party to all of them, and each invokes a set of choices that seem like the best of two (or more) evils. Though unfortunate circumstances build resilience, I’m not talking about these kinds of hard things.

I’m talking about voluntary hard things. Things we do – on purpose – *because* they are hard. The passions we pursue when the much more attractive alternative is a date with Netflix and the couch.

Hard things sprinkle grit and resistance into an otherwise ordinary life. The friction ensures that the intended shape of your best self is brought out by relief, a constant chiseling away at the thick outer layer of self-doubt.

For me, this is running. I loathe it. I dread the days that I know I will need to come home from a full and exhausting day at work, bundle into winter running gear, and hit some intervals. Or even worse, the weekend that includes a long (8+ miles, 1+ hours) run. I start dreading the whole weekend on Thursday, rolling over the thoughts of timing, weather, calorie consumption, and general doom for days on end until it’s done.

And I love it. The feeling of accomplishment. The tightness of leg muscles. The sound of music that matches my footfalls. The chill in the air and burn in my lungs. A trail broken by sunlight and patches of ice. The feeling of it being over.

This weekend was the hardest hard thing I may have ever accomplished, physically. Twelve grueling miles of ice floes, mud slicks, underwater trails, wet shoes, and hills upon hills. Twelve miles of forging creeks, leaping over tree debris, crawling under snags, readjusting ice spikes, and falling gracefully on the downhills.

Me, in the gray, on some of that super fun ice.

All the while, listening to Talisk, one of my new favorite Celtic bands. I imagined the bodhran was the sound our feet made, as I watched runners pick their way through the ice and rivulets of melting snow. I thought about a trickle of a stream wending its way through a green Scottish moor. I marveled at the trees raining pine needles on us as we passed and the way the weak spring sun spotlighted still sparkling snow. It was hard, and it was perfect all at the same time.

My feet looked like ground hamburger and my shoes had standing mud in them when I was done. But I made my time goal – sneaking in just under 3 hours at 2:58 and a 14:34/mile pace. About 3 minutes slower per mile than my road pace, but I’ve never been prouder of a race pace than that one. Last year, I came in at 3:12 and 16:00/mile in the same race on the same trail in far, far better conditions.

*This* is why I do hard things. Because in only one year, I’ve chiseled more of that self-loathing, that self-doubt away. I never wonder IF I will finish a race anymore. I *know* I will finish any race I start. I don’t look at my Fitbit for the time or the mileage, I just run. I walk when I need to, run when I can, or in the case of last Saturday, throw my bodyweight over my quads and slog when necessary.

After a pit stop at the St. Patrick’s Day parade and a quick shower and change at home, I found myself at our favorite pub, setting up for my fiance’s concert. After a three-year hiatus, he was finally able to reunite his Irish punk band, the Screw City Saints. I watched as 5 uber-talented men in kilts prepped to take the stage, each and every one of them completely unaware of how truly gifted they are.

The Screw City Saints, St. Patrick’s Day Reunion

Meanwhile, my best friend joined me at the table. We fell into easy chatter about her new job, my new job, and her upcoming election for public office. It’s an uphill battle with an overcrowded ballot and a special election with historically abysmal voter turnout. She’s been sick and stressed and thoroughly overloaded professionally and personally, and yet has still chosen to throw everything she has into these 6 weeks of campaigning.

Suddenly, sitting there at that table, the realization hit me.

When you do hard things, you surround yourself with people who do the same.

My fiancé does the hardest of hard things. He’s a defense attorney by day, both with a county contract and successfully running his own private practice. His cases are not happy or pretty, his clients not your typical upstanding community citizens. But he fights for their legal rights, and he fights to keep his business running.

By night, he’s a musician who is so very faithful to his gift. So many people, me included, love music and are good at it. But so many of us let it go. We allow life to get in the way, we allow ourselves to be distracted enough to abandon our outlets and passions. But not him. He practices almost daily. He writes and learns new songs. He always has at least two bands/musical ensembles booking shows simultaneously.

And while you may not think being in an Irish punk band is a “hard thing”, let me assure you, it certainly isn’t easy. It means giving up every Sunday afternoon to practice. It means keeping others motivated, involved, and included. It means learning and re-learning more than 30 songs in a set enough to play them together and by memory. It means finding quality sound technicians and accessory members to round out the sound. It means booking and marketing shows. And on the night of the show, it means falling dead in a heap afterwards as if it were an intense 3-hour workout, your fingers raw, back sore, and voice hoarse.

And then there’s my best friend, who in the span of about six months has bought a new house, sold not one, but two other houses, started a new job, volunteered to run a weekend festival that draws thousands of people, stepped into a VP role on a board, and oh yeah, also campaigned for elected office. I’m almost positive I’m missing at least 10 other things too. She has done #allofthehardthings, and in a fashion that is so true to her, #allatthesametime.

But this is why we show up for each other. Because people who do hard things recognize that grit, determination, talent, resilience, and growth mindset in others. There’s the saying “Be the kind of person you want to attract” and it couldn’t be truer in my life now. There was a long time when I lacked the confidence to try new things or “put myself out there”, and it had nothing to do with weight loss, body image, or physicality in any way. Instead, it had everything to do with self-efficacy – the belief that I *could* fail, or that I *could* succeed, but that I would still be standing in the end.

But now, I seek out the hard things. The hard things are what define me, what attracts me to others, what gives me the support network I have. The hard things are what makes me as tough as the ice on the trails and as bright as the sunlight through the trees.

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