Know Your “Why” and Do Hard Things

hiker-on-mountainIt is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

—Theodore Roosevelt, Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship in a Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France, April 23, 1910.


President Roosevelt was no stranger to hard things. As a young child, Teddy was overweight and sickly. His dad admonished him that to survive he would have to intentionally make himself more resilient, to purpose to do the hard things. He took his father’s instruction to heart and lived a life full of adventures and accomplishments. He chose not to be a sickly, overweight man and became a resilient, confident man. He knew his why and chose to do the hard things.

In the century since Teddy Roosevelt lived, however, culture has molded our thinking to believe we should avoid the hard things of life, that pain or difficulties are bad, and we should stay away from them. Yet, the overused maxim “no pain, no gain” holds true. One rarely makes progress without adversity, difficulty, and occasional failure.

Over the past two years, I’ve watched my youngest child struggle to crawl on rug-burned knees, walk after many falls, and cut teeth resulting in swollen gums and fevers. But he never gave up on working through these developmental stages. These natural challenges paint a clear picture of how we grow in all other areas and stages of life. Whether for spiritual, physical, or financial health (or any area of our lives), we must decide that we will do the hard work if we want to see real improvement.

But why? Why would anyone choose to do the hard things? Every individual must answer this question for himself. Before someone is really committed to doing the hard things in life that produce improvement and growth, they usually have a reason, a why, that is driving them forward. This may be family or friends, or an event that happened, or a deep-seated core belief. Whatever it is, for one to see lasting change, he or she has to know the why and hold on to it no matter what.

Once the why has been settled, then comes the challenging part—doing the hard things. Set goals or priorities and initiate steps toward reaching those goals or improving on those priorities. Undoubtedly, you will experience some failures along the way, but they should simply reinforce that you are headed in the right direction. Failure is often the result of striving towards something previously thought unattainable. Don’t let fear of failure keep you from trying new things.

After all, failure really isn’t failure . . . unless we fail to get back up and try again. Failures are a sign of growth, attempting something new or challenging because you want to improve. I have recently been trying to wake up earlier to make more time for spiritual and fitness goals. Often I sleep past the appointed time, but I won’t quit. Each new morning brings another opportunity to get out of bed a little bit earlier, and I’ve been able to make progress toward my goal. “Failures” are simply markers to indicate your current level of ability, discipline, or expertise. With continued hard work—doing the hard things—you’ll soon move beyond those markers.

Our why serves as our foundation, so make it unmovable, and anchor all of your goals and priorities to it. Whether health and fitness, financial and career, family and relationships, or spiritual disciplines, choose to do the hard things.

Remember, if you’re not failing, you’re not striving. Do hard things!


**Adapted from ONE Magazine