In youth did you ever carry two bags of groceries for “balance,” take the stairs not elevator “just because,” have a hard conversation because not having it was harder, and then felt better? We have become a society obsessed with ease, convenience, excuses, drifting. Alert: No society and no person gets stronger, sleeps better, or has any impact … drifting. Growth comes from doing “the hard thing,” doing it with conviction, not quitting, blaming others, or looking for the free lunch.
This is the message no one wants to hear, but it is the message – in a nutshell – radiating from American history, not just what made our country great, but what has always given individual Americans the measure of greatness they have. From pioneers and immigrants to post-civil war peacemakers, those who fought in two world wars, battled communism, turned back diseases, America “does hard.”
When I say, “does hard,” I mean relishes, thrives, rises, and leads by doing “the hard thing.” We “go to the moon,” said Kennedy, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” Why do we Americans go to those beat up, impoverished, war torn regions around the planet to turn them better? It is “hard.”
Why has the United States won more Nobel Prizes than any other nation, 406 total, the UK a distant second with 138, China with nine? Why have we won 23 Nobel Peace Prizes, a quarter of all awarded? Only one Chinese citizen won – for fighting Chinese Communism.
So, we Americans go to the fire, do the “hard” thing, again and again and again. It has always been a part of our national identity – and it is vital that we remember that now. As a society, if you look in on us from 20,000 feet, you will see the data that supports this assessment, no kidding.
Pew Research, no bastion of conservatism, did a global study in 2015. What they found is fascinating. Fully 200 years after the French observer Alex de Tocqueville called Americans “exceptional,” our “emphasis on individualism and work ethic stands out” – still.
Pew surveyed 44 countries. Findings revealed that “57 percent of Americans disagreed with the statement ‘Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control,’ a higher percentage than most other nations and far above the global median of 38 percent.”
Moreover, “Americans are more likely to believe that hard work pays off.” Thus, “when asked, on a scale of 0 to 10, about how important working hard is to getting ahead in life, 73 percent of Americans said it is was a ‘10’ or ‘very important,’ compared with a global median of 50 percent.”
Individual “get up and go,” get it done, take responsibility, step up, do the “hard thing,” make it happen – is highest among Americans. Perhaps not surprisingly, so is “optimism” and “religious” conviction, if looking for motivations.
Almost 60 percent of Americans count religion important, while less than 20 percent of Russians and one percent of Chinese do. Any wonder Americans are not big on “the collective?” No, Americans – at our best – are about solving our own problems, not waiting on government.
Need heat? Fell the tree, split the wood, think ahead, heat the house. Need progress, have a goal, envision it, work for it, do not excuse your own failure, nor dwell on it; learn from it, do it again, do the “hard thing,” until you get it done. That has always been the American way, the only limit is our imagination.
But here we are, a society looking around for someone new to blame, getting comfortable with victimhood, cross-accusation, hoping someone will now carry our load, pay our bills, forgive our loans. Bluntly, that is not America, not if you know history. That is not how we got here, how we will get out.
Simple as it sounds, on the national and personal levels – and we all know this from life, itself – turning into the wind, tacking with purpose, doing the thing we least want to do, gritting it, is how we prevail. No one ever got stronger doing less, went further shrinking from hard work, or won by quitting.
So, when someone tells you quitting is easier, they want special treatment, or that doing the “hard thing” is just too much, point them at American history and the American character. We are different, as a culture, from most of the world. That is what we have to remember, when chips are down and excuses run rich. Doing “the hard thing” is what creates growth, not coming up with new excuses.
Babe Ruth was asked how he prevailed. He said simply, “It is hard to beat a person who never gives up.” Elon Musk echoed Ruth: “If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it.” But that quintessential, intergalactic American, Yoda, put it best: “Do or do not – there is no try.” You want to grow, make it happen? Do “the hard thing.”
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.