Hard is Good

May 13, 2011   

Jeff Bussgang just wrote about a great dinner he and (frequent NYTM sponsor) Dave Carvajal hosted on Wednesday night, and highlighted a number of the take aways he had from the dinner's guest of honor, Brendan Rogers, a 10 year SEAL member and now director of The Navy SEAL Foundation. For me, there was only one big take away, which was Brendan's first and strongest point: Hard is Good.

Now, we all operate on different planes, so let me say up front, I don't think anything "hard" I've done is in the ballpark of what the SEAL members go through in their training. But, I was struck by what Brendan said because I've been thinking about the idea of what's hard and what's not for the past six months as I've learned to code.

As I wrote in the HoPE Manifesto, going from total n00b to proficient developer is HARD! For days on end you don't understand what you're doing, and it's personally demeaning, mentally excruciating, and you want to quit. I had quit several times before as I wanted to learn to code, and I've watched many people quit as well.

When I came out of my "sweat lodge," though, I realized something important: going through the process of learning to code was important less because of the coding skills I picked up, but more because it was hard, and the lesson that provides:

You see, for nearly my entire life, I've relied on my strengths, and avoided my weaknesses. I couldn't code, so I out-imagined what a product should do. I couldn't delegate, so I manically took on as much as possible and "just did it myself" rather than teach someone else how to do it.

In school I was happy with B+ because I could easily get B+ without really working. That was my strength, so why change?

Do you do the same?

The process of learning to code has forced me to stop myself when I say "I'm not good at..." or "I never learned how to..." or "XYZ doesn't come naturally to me."

Before I would have accepted it as reality, like someone north of 20 accepts that they won't learn a foreign language. "Could have when I was a kid, but too late. That's not my skill."

But now I try to catch myself.

That weakness in delegation -- the one that I've always masked by taking on more work and doing it myself -- that's a problem, and chances are, it's a skill I can learn. But, before I learn to delegate and become a better manager, I have to first accept that it's going to be HARD! And that, wait for it... Hard sucks! But, hard is good!

Same goes for keeping my body in shape.

Talk about what comes naturally... My gene-pool is absolute shit when it comes to cardiovascular health. Nature has made it quite clear that keeping a healthy body is not something it's going to make easy for me.

However, even after having some pretty intense and scary events happen in my family life around cardiovascular health, I did what was easy for me -- make modest changes to my diet -- but, I didn't change my (lack of) fitness routine.

Why? Because "I know me and I just don't like working out unless its competitive sports. It's not what I do."

Right, Nate, that's true. You don't like it. Working out is HARD! But listen, asshole, that's the reason to do it.

Ultimately, this new lens is exciting for me as I near my 30s. For whatever reason, I had gone through life to-date thinking it was best to "know my strengths" and play to them. I am who I am, right?

For the last few months, and now bolstered by Brendan's inspiring words and Jeff and Dave's dinner, I've come to realize something much more powerful than my strengths -- that I can address any weakness and any blind-spot that I want, and continue to evolved to be precisely the person I want to be.

Will it be easy? If I'm lucky it won't be. It's going to be hard. Real hard. Excruciating if it's truly hard. But hard is good.

Hard is good.

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