The Hard Path

Why Doing Hard Things Matters: Find Your Comfort Zone and Go Beyond

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In travel, in the mountains, and in life in general, it is important to remember that the easiest path isn’t usually the best path because doing hard things matters.

We are frequently advised to take the path of least resistance.

But, like in weight lifting, it is this resistance that makes us stronger people.

We could all live huddled up in our parents’ basement, only emerging for food and the occasional shower, otherwise fed by the familiar glow of inane television programming and a never-ending supply of Facebook updates and websites, only consuming things, never creating things.

It’s easy to be a consumer, to be a critic.

Doing Hard Things Matters - So do them, and do them with passion

You can sit down and passively watch some film in two hours that took dozens of people years to put together, thousands of hours of work, and millions of dollars to produce, and then just say “Well, that sucked.”

It is infinitely more difficult to be a creator of content. To get that movie made in the first place, to build your own house, to put words on paper, or to fix your own car when something goes wrong.

Part of the reason there is so much discontent in the modern working world, in my opinion, is that we are so far removed from the results of our work. When you sit down at a desk and work with mostly intangible things, you have a much harder time seeing the fruits of your labor.

Read: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

It isn’t like working construction where you can drive by years from now and still see that house. Remember what it was like to watch it emerge from nothing.

Or the farmer that sees his barren field rise up to bear food that will go on to sustain life.

Just as it is far easier to be an employee and to constantly complain about the job you have, rather than be the person creating your own living or to be creating jobs and employing others.

Doing Hard Things Matters - So do them, and do them with passion

This goes back to my recent post about the nature of risk and the merit of taking risks (both in the mountains and in life).

These risks, this resistance, this struggle, it is what makes us into stronger, more competent, more confident individuals.

You grow from each of your failures. So in that sense, they are not failures at all. The true failure would be never to bother trying at all.

Doing the hard things makes us grow. It’s one of the few time where failure still means success. You’re making progress and learning. You know more today than you did yesterday.

Say you start a business that ultimately goes under. You will learn about sales, marketing, taxes, law, supply and demand, and more about each of those things than you would by just reading (consuming) a book.

You will also grow personally as you make these professional contacts, make your first sale, and struggle to keep it afloat. So was it really a failure?

You commit to climbing Mount Rainier. You go through all the physical training and forge new habits based on fitness and healthy living. You climb other peaks to prepare. You push yourself hard on Rainier both physically and mentally as you cope with the altitude, cold, and the effort required to haul your gear. But you ultimately get altitude sickness short of the summit and turn around. Was it truly a failure?

I failed to climb Mount Rainier the first time but then came back a few years later more prepared than I’ve ever been and successfully summited. That point of failure was just part of the journey and making progress. It wasn’t the end of the story.

Doing Hard Things Matters - So do them, and do them with passion

Doing Hard Things Matters

I recently caught a post on Buzzfeed titled “18 Things Only People Who Hate Camping Understand“, which went on to humorously illustrate a number of the difficulties about camping… It’s cold at night, the ground is hard, you have to cook on a small stove.

Well, duh, it’s not as easy as sitting in your house and microwaving a meal and crawling into your bed to watch American Idol.

But it is precisely these discomforts and challenges that make you grow. Even if it is just a newfound respect for the conveniences of modern life and a chance to push you slightly out of your comfort zone.

You always hear the cliche about striking it rich and then retiring early to go sit on a beach somewhere sipping margaritas. But, really, how boring would that be?

You could fly across the country and “see” how big the United States is. You could drive across the country and get a better sense of the varied topography, people, and towns that make it unique.

But what about walking across the country?

How different of a perspective would that give you?

Almost every mountain has its tourist path or dog’s route to the summit. The one that doesn’t require much skill beyond fitness. You’ve got the DC Route on Mount Rainier or the Mountaineer’s Route on Mount Whitney. These are great routes, but they aren’t necessarily the “best” routes (whatever that means).

Doing Hard Things Matters - So do them, and do them with passion

But the easy route and the hard route can be totally relative. For someone who’s never donned crampons before nor ventured above, say, 7,000 feet, those routes may be their hard route. And that’s awesome.

In the mountains as in life, we get so much more out of pushing ourselves. Maybe the hard route is giving up smoking or getting off the couch and training for a 5k. Maybe it’s just their old routine and way of life. It could be something as simple as embracing the Cold Shower Challenge for 30 days.

The important thing is to embrace something that is a challenge for you. Something they might not even be able to do currently–but that they are striving toward.

Don’t let yourself always take the dog route in life.

Push yourself, find your boundaries, and then push beyond.

Stop right now and take a look at the choices you have in front of you in life and then start by doing something hard.

Because remember, doing hard things matters, and with time it will only get easier.

Read Next: Why We Should Cultivate Discomfort

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Why Doing Hard Things Matters: Find Your Comfort Zone and Go Beyond featured, armchair-alpinist


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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Comments 2

  1. Ryan,
    It’s a rainy, covid isolation, Saturday in Big Sur, CA. Kicking back and catching up on my emails. Less than a year away from retirement and I find this most excellent blog! I’ve used the “outside of the comfort zone” theory for work to get my 20 years of service in with Ca. Parks and other times in my life and this blog restates the theory and why it’s healthy for humans to do it more often than they do!
    Thanks for the perspective, Ryan!!!

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