I was at my favorite Cleveland sandwich shop, Melt, while visiting my in-laws, and as usual, I sat down to eat two immense sandwiches. These things are huge.
Maybe it was the two cocktails, sarsaparilla, and two glasses of ice water, but I was having trouble finishing the second sandwich. It was very depressing, since I've done this a few times before, and I was proud of my determination. In fact, I first discovered Melt on account of the TV show Man vs. Food, in which host Adam Richman chowed down on immense meals on a routine basis. But now I was having difficulty finishing the second sandwich.
It would be difficult for me to finish the second sandwich, but it would have been possible. What was even more difficult for me in this situation, however, was to quit. After fighting it for a few more minutes--and taking a few more bites--I realized that I had to quit, precisely because, for me, that was the greater challenge.
When you're debating between two courses of action, it pays to listen to your gut. At the same time, it also pays to think about what will be more difficult for you. Life isn't easy. Think about it: if the path of least resistance were consistently the right choice, wouldn't everyone take it? If it were very easy to build a social network with hundreds of millions of users, wouldn't more people do it? If it were a cinch to innovate in the search category to take users away from Google, wouldn't all competitors be compelled to do it? If everyone gets drawn to the same honey pot, doesn't the pot eventually run out of honey?
And while honey may be sweet, pushing yourself past where you thought your boundaries were is even sweeter. It's a great feeling to tackle the path of greater resistance and realize you're a tougher individual afterwards.
For me, "do the hard thing" extends not just to putting down sandwiches, but business challenges as well. Take networking, for example. My network probably considers me to be a major extrovert. After all, I've built a company that focuses on digital communications. I started a 300-strong networking group, Mosaic, based out of New York. I've consciously decided to acquire 5 pets, a spouse, and a kid. At the same time, in many ways I'm quite introverted. There was a time when going to a networking event, especially without a wingman, was terrifying to me. So terrifying, in fact, that I simply never did it. Yet I fought against my instinct to avoid doing the hard thing--forcing myself to come out of my shell--and I couldn't be happier about that decision.
Some people are cynical and will take this advice to the point of absurdity. Of course you shouldn't go out of your way to invent stupid challenges for yourself. When you're at a crosswalk and you don't have the light, don't close your eyes and just start walking across the street. When you're launching a business that you project will require $20 million in startup capital, don't try to bootstrap it yourself just because that will be harder. Harder doesn't have to equal hardheaded.
I'm just advocating taking the harder path when you're truly torn between two forks in the road. And by consistently taking the harder path, you'll toughen yourself over time. That's what I want for you: not to make life easier for yourselves than we have to. It might be counterintuitive, but if anything, common sense is anything but common. Embrace the harder path often enough, and eventually you'll find that each time you do it, it's not that difficult. You'll get used to consistently challenging yourself, whether it's writing a business plan, firing a consultant who just isn't working out, or simply allowing yourself not to finish that second sandwich.
So, close this article--right this moment--and try to think about something hard you've been avoiding simply *because* it's hard. And tackle it head-on. Let me know how it goes--even if it's hard to relay the gory details.