No Shortcuts - The Fine Line Between Challenge and Misery

I saw a Simon Sinek quote recently that I thought was interesting.

"Working hard for something we don't care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion." 

There is so much going on in culture today about working hard, burning out, hustle porn.....and then on the other side the IG influencers who are trust fund babies, do very little and post about their fantastic lives.  Media LOVES both of these extremes.  The middle is where most people actually are and it is a confusing place.  

There is a lot of research done on where the ideal place to be is.  A couple books I love about this topic are Drive by Daniel Pink and Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (craziest last lame I've ever seen!).  You want to have an internal drive that pushes hard and is challenged.  You want to be right beyond your comfort zone and solving problems that give you energy, pride and momentum.  

Since everyone is different in their threshold for hard work, what they're passionate about, what type of work they like doing, etc that it becomes hard to know when you flip from "flow" to just outright stress and misery. 

I have had some experience with this for good and bad.  I have grinded through period where I just knew I didn't care about it, but had to push through.  I've also been in the flow and accomplished more than I ever could have imagined.  Here are my tips on figuring out where you are on that edge. 

Long Term Goals:  Having a compass for where you want to go long term is extremely helpful.  I like to think 5 and 10 years out.....and then work back to figure out what you need to do to get there.  Do you need an MBA?  Do you need strategic skills?  Leadership skills?  Hardcore analytic skills?  Do you need to have 4.5 speed?  Or be able to bench press 350 pounds?  It could be anything.  Just be very real on what it takes. 

At that point you can start your journey and be very objective about what you're going through.  If you need to eventually bench press 350 pounds you are going to have to go through some extreme pain to work up to that.  Your expectations are now set as you begin this arduous process.  If you are not good analytically and know you need to be really strong, then you ALSO know the journey is going to long, painful and involve a ton of frustration.  If you knew in your heart this is what is needed to get to your goal, then you will suck it up and do it. 

Sinek's quote is good, but you need to stand back sometimes and be able to see the whole picture.  At the time you are stressed that actually might be ok.  You might need to endure a ton of stress at the time to reach your end point where your passion is.  The point is that you CARE about the journey.....not just that single point. 

I have a good personal story from my experience at P&G.  My long term goal when I entered was to equip myself with the skills to be a CEO one day.  Within the first 6 months I realized I was drastically lacking in pretty much every skill needed.  Strategy.  Analytics.  Leadership.  Writing.  Public Speaking.  Project Management.  Vision.  The list could go on, but I'll end it there for my sake.  ha.  I was VERY realistic about what the next 5 to 10 years will need to be like.  I knew I was going to have to endure pain along the way to build those skills.  Long nights.  Negative feedback.  Rough meetings.  Doubt.  

Week by week I felt myself growing though.  I got little wins.  I could see myself getting better and forming into something positive.  The long term goal kept me from getting too frustrated when things got tough.  

Check in Regularly on Progress:  It's important you do regular check ins to make sure you are on the path you want to be on.  One thing that always shocks me is how fast time goes by.  6 months can seem to pass by in a blink.  Sometimes  a few years can feel like the same way.  Where I have made mistakes is when I have the mindset of....."I'll give it another 6 months (after saying the same thing 6 months ago!)".  A year just went by.  

It's totally fine to struggle for a bit.  That is part of life and part of the journey.  The problem becomes when you are off your path and you just continue marching in the wrong direction.  You are stressed.  You are miserable.  And you are not going toward where you need to go.  This can easily happen with jobs because you don't want to go through the effort of finding another job.  It's scary and there are no guarantees.  The downside is wasting potentially YEARS in a job that sucks and is not growing you to get to your long term goal.  

Time and Life Management:  If you aren't ruthless about managing your time you can actually start taking on a lot of things that ADD stress to your life and make you overwhelmed.  This is the principle of needing to say NO to a lot of things to make sure you stay focused on your path.  

You can be perfectly on your path and then you get invited to lead a volunteer group.  You think it's a good idea, but is adding a lot of commitments.  You then have a family member that is ill and you need to spend time taking care of that.  You then want to spend more time with friends and you join a golf/cards/book club session every Wednesday evening.  Your schedule is now packed.....and you become very stressed.  

This was caused by YOU.  Not by your job or anyone else.  Your intentions were good and life comes at you fast with stuff.  You did overextend yourself our of maybe a feeling of guilt because you hate saying know.  Oprah talks about this a lot.  She HATED saying no and just ended up traveling all the time to events that she didn't have passion for.  Once she stopped doing that she got a whole lot happier and focused on HER.  


Finding that fine line between challenge and misery is tough.  Some weeks you might be in misery.  Some weeks could be that perfect challenge.  That's part of what happens when you are pushing yourself.  It's important to be mindful about what's going on around you to stay our of that misery place for a long time!  It's not worth it.