We’ve all heard the admonition to,
“work smarter, not harder.”
When interpreted correctly, there’s much wisdom in this idea.
You should always seek the most efficient, least costly, least complicated way to complete a task.
This strategy has the benefit, in theory, of utilizing the fewest resources and the least amount of labor. Plus, it leads to the fastest completion, which by itself alone could justify the efforts.
However, today, I fear many misinterpret this wisdom to mean,
“Avoid hard work!”
While finding the most efficient way to accomplish something is a sign of wisdom, avoiding hard work is a sign of sloth.
It’s the mark of a defeatist, the tell-tale signature of the non-resilient.
Sometimes hard work is just plain required. And usually, the result makes it worthwhile.
Going To The Moon BECAUSE It Was Hard
In 1961, President Kennedy challenged the nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.
He proposed this before we had even successfully placed a man in orbit. In his speech, Kennedy used words that might sound odd in today’s America.
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard.”
I found it interesting the words Kennedy used to stress the value of accomplishing the task. He focused on the difficulty of the mission.
It’s almost as though he said, “If this were easy, I wouldn’t even suggest it.”
He could have said, “We choose to go to the moon because of the knowledge and technology we will gain from doing so.” But he didn’t.
He could have said,” We choose to go to the moon to prevent the Russians from gaining superiority over us in space and defense technologies.” But he didn’t.
He said we were going to the moon BECAUSE it was hard.
Kennedy was looking to spur America’s spirit, creativity, and ingenuity. Only a tremendous and significant challenge would suffice.
He understood the importance of challenge to the human spirit—the power of dreaming big, working hard, and overcoming significant obstacles.
He knew the magnitude of the effort alone would be a massive unifying force, making it worthwhile.
When Kennedy issued this challenge, the prevailing thought was that it was impossible.
Nearly all senior engineers and aerospace executives at the time would tell you, in private, of course, there’s no way. To create and perfect this level of technology in such a short period was a pipe dream.
These were men with vast experience in the aerospace industry, “the experts.”
The work required was too severe, the tasks too many, the risks too large, the danger level far too high.
Kennedy did not know what he was asking of them.
There was no way to get this completed by 1970, at least not safely. And the word safely was right there in his mission statement, wasn’t it?
In fact, NASA landed men on the moon with five months to spare. So how did they do it?
Simple. NASA and its contractors raided every significant engineering school in the nation. They hired an unprecedented number of engineering masters and doctoral candidates.
They filled their ranks with 22-26-year-olds. Young men and women who simply did not know what Kennedy asked was impossible.
They knew there were thousands of obstacles between them and the moon. However, they simply rolled up their sleeves and started knocking them down, one by one.
They needed rockets that didn’t blow up. Rockets that could reach 25,000 miles an hour for translunar injection.
They also needed a spacecraft, but not just any would do. The engineers required a spacecraft that could survive a similar 25,000 miles per hour plunge into the earth’s atmosphere.
They didn’t say,
“Well, that’s patently impossible. That’s ten times faster than a rifle bullet. Nothing has ever gone that fast before.”
They simply went to work designing a spacecraft capable of ten times the speed of a rifle bullet.
Apollo took the best and brightest minds and made every attempt to work “smarter.” But in the end, they had to create from scratch the processes. They had to design brand new equipment. They had to perform a tremendous amount of testing.
And the only way to have a chance was with old-fashioned hard work.
Eventually, the rockets stopped blowing up.
The Daunting Task Of Building Out A Massive Cell Network
In the late 1980s, cell phones existed.
I’m sure President Trump had one at the time. And, most likely, it was the size of a WW2 walkie-talkie. These phones weighed 4 pounds with a long telescoping antenna.
You can bet some young cellular engineer at the time was pitching the idea of a vast mobile network – a network covering the entire United States with phones the size of wallets, not bricks.
You can also bet some of the senior engineers of the day said,
“We can never get the phones that small. Even if we miniaturized all the internal circuitry, we’d still need a large antenna and large battery. One large enough to power the transmitter. Plus, you need the space to dissipate the heat.”
I’m sure one young engineer said,
“We don’t need large batteries if the cell towers were closer together.”
To which the senior engineer probably said,
“They’d have to be only a mile or two apart for that to work. That would mean building tens of thousands of cell towers across the country. Can you imagine the scope of the construction?”
Yes. We can. Today there are over 200,000 cell towers in the United States today (and counting).
I find it interesting that smartphones are a symbol of our advanced technology. Sure, they sometimes help us to work more efficiently, but more often, they are the cause of significant distraction.
Plus, paradoxically, the implementation of them was solved through a brute force technique – a.ka. “Hard work.” It took millions of working hours to install the massive number of cell towers.
At some point, the industry realized the scope of the construction was worth it. We just had to bear down, roll up our sleeves, and build and install a hundred thousand cell towers.
Can You Build Your Own Airplane? YES! One Part At A Time
Twenty years ago, I had a friend who built his own airplane.
It was a single-engine, mono-wing kit plane. It was made mostly of spruce, plywood, and metal fittings. All were formed and hand-fabricated from raw materials in his garage.
When he first entertained the idea of building a plane from scratch, he was intimidated by the prospect. What a job it was going to be!
It would take him years to complete. It would involve a lot of arduous, repetitive work.
I recall he was on the fence about the whole concept until he started reading an interesting story by an author who built his own airplane.
The author said something inspirational,
“Building an airplane is not a big task. It’s ten thousand tiny ones.”
The author was right.
The sheer scope of a task can paralyze one until you break it down into its individual components.
When building the airplane, my friend started on Page One. He began cutting and sanding small pieces of spruce to prescribed lengths.
Turning to Page 2, he glued those pieces together and stapled little gussets over the joints.
The next day, his first subassembly was complete.
Every task after that was some variation of what he’d already done, sometimes working in wood, sometimes metal.
After several months of work, his garage was full of recognizable airplane parts – a horizontal stabilizer, rudder, aileron, etc.
Within three years, he had an airplane parked in his garage!
Writing A Book IS HARD But Easier With The Right Mindset/Strategy
I hear this one all the time.
Someone will say they would like to write a book, but it’s so much work. It requires so much time and effort.
“Maybe someday I will write one – when I have more time,” they say.
When I began writing my first book, I had befriended a published author (and a best-selling one no less).
His advice was simple,
“Writing a book should not be thought of as one big task. Write one page a day, and in a year, you have a 365-page book.”
Okay, there is a little more to it than that. You can’t write a page of crap every day. (I guess you technically can, but the result is a book full of crap.)
I don’t recommend only writing a page a day. That leads to a lot of continuity problems. But if that advice overcomes inertia, gets you off your rear, and gets you writing – take it.
You can figure out later what works for you.
Try To Avoid Making A Mountain Out Of A Mole Hill
At one time, I worked as a process engineer for a large food company.
Part of my job was to ensure our products were consistent over time.
The trick was to make sure we ran the exact process parameters each time we ran a product.
This detail ensured the cook, flavor, and digestibility were all correct and consistent.
When we captured those ideal parameters, we called it a recipe.
About 25 years ago, an enterprising young programmer developed a computer tool to monitor our production process. The program determines whether to save a recipe based on the process parameters ran.
There were three basic parameters the program evaluated. These parameters determined if we were inside minimums and maximums for each variable.
These minimums and maxims created guardrails to keep our process consistent.
If we strayed outside a guardrail, we would get alarms, and the recipe would not save.
The company made about 100 different products on these machines. This meant 100 different products times three sets of parameters times two (a min and max for each).
This requirement meant about six hundred manual inputs were required. The program needed 600 guardrails data points to monitor our production controls accurately.
When I took over this program, none of our factories were using this system.
I was told,
“the ongoing management of the data entry was just too much to manage.”
No factory would spend time entering and maintaining this database.
I decided to enter it myself at one of our factories. It took three eight-hour days to make all the entries.
We didn’t use this program for nearly twenty-five years. Why? Because six hundred data points seemed too extreme to manage.
I entered them in three days.
And now the only changes required are when a new product is introduced. The upkeep now equates to adding six parameters a couple of times per year. Each incident takes about ten minutes or less.
Now with this program operational, the product consistency and quality have greatly improved.
They ignored this tool for twenty-five years because it was thought to be just too much work.
When one person rolled up his sleeves and did the work, the mountain turned out to be a mole-hill.
The Commitment To Make It To The TOP Is Getting Harder
Youth travel baseball seems to be a way of life for many families.
Today, there are so many travel ball teams we struggle to fill the local Little League teams.
You remember Little League, right? That’s where kids go to play baseball for fun, right?
I hear stories of parents so wrapped up in their son’s baseball career; they virtually put their own lives on hold.
They have big plans for their sons.
Their sons will be recruited by a Division 1 college and be drafted by a Major League Baseball franchise.
Now these parents and, in theory, kids have high hopes and dreams. They are working hard, right?
Practice four days a week and games two days a week. Aren’t they just rolling up their sleeves and putting in the hard work?
Well – yes and no.
The new normal in travel ball requires four days of practice and two days of games a week. The training is at least 1.5-2 hours a day.
What are these kids doing in the other 14 hours of their waking day?
The kids that end up in the MLB someday are working on their baseball skills on their own time. They’re swinging bats and developing that wicked slider.
The basic travel ball practice is just that – BASIC.
To be a star at any professional sport takes hard work beyond the basic level.
- It takes five hundred swings of the bat a day.
- Or maybe five hundred free throws.
- Or they are kicking fifty field goals.
- Or they are hitting five hundred golf balls.
What’s interesting to me is travel baseball, and other sports, have set the “basic” bar so high. It’s so high most kids don’t want to go the extra mile.
They don’t think they have to.
Take more swings a day outside of practice? No thanks – Not interested.
They are practicing based on what is expected of them as travel ballplayers. Not on what they need to do to be a superstar.
They all indeed play at a higher level of skill than my generation did forty years ago. But that is the new normal.
If you ask almost any professional athlete, he or she will tell you natural talent only takes you so far.
Future professional athletes are in the gym early and back home late. They are honing their natural skills through gut-wrenching, exhausting hard work.
Even the few who make it to the ranks of the professionals have to work excruciatingly hard just to stay there.
The competition is too great to slack off. Aspiring pros cannot rely solely on natural talent – which everyone has in spades at that level.
Many people have natural talent. But most are intimidated by the level of work required to reach the professional ranks.
Once again, most people (i.e. amateurs) are scared off by the hard work. The professional is NOT. He or she does what is required.
Final Thoughts – Resiliency Is The Key
The point in all this is:
If you really want something, you cannot let the magnitude of the task intimidate you. You cannot be scared into inactivity or surrender.
A wise man or woman will size up the job, slice it up into smaller tasks, develop a plan, and roll up their sleeves. They’ll take care of business.
Often all it takes to get started is to overcome “the inertia of idleness.” To kill the fear and intimidation by creating some forward momentum. It can be a turning point.
When the individual’s virtual ignition switch moves to “Start” – half the battle is over.
Once in motion, the key becomes embracing the inertia. Staying in motion until the task or tasks are complete.
The resilient few embrace difficult challenges; we welcome the struggle because hard work is its own reward.
I’ve never heard of anyone who felt less confident, less accomplished, or less satisfied by completing a difficult task.
Even in failure, most times the regret is the failure itself, not the attempt at success.
- Sometimes you have to test that rocket engine a hundred times before it stops blowing up.
- Sometimes you have to build one-hundred thousand cell phone towers.
- Sometimes you have to do the bulk data entry.
- Sometimes you have to write a page a day.
- Sometimes you have to hit five hundred baseballs a day.
And yes, we went to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
“Just In Case” Jack
p.s. – I believe doing hard things is necessary to live a happy and fulfilling life. We all need a challenge and a purpose. A good reason to get out of bed in the morning.
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