“People don’t talk enough about how hard it is to make a change in the world, then you start and it’s really hard, and it isn’t talked about enough so how are people to know?”
While this isn’t verbatim the conversation I had this weekend, it is a version of a sentiment echoed by a friend with aspirations to make positive, concrete change in the way that people go about their day to day work.
I made the point that in fact, there are heaps of examples of people talking about how hard it is to build something significant, to change the way the world is.
One of the challenges is, we are hearing about the tough times from people who are through it, the success stories, and we are far more exposed to the successful end result than the behind the scenes hard work that went into it, and rightfully so, most stories are only worth hearing if they’ve finished the job.
Secondly, it is difficult because when you first hear about the tough times, it is usually in the context of your own excitement, enthusiasm and positivity around the beginning of your journey. I hear from new entrepreneurs, charity founders and young professionals;
“I know it’s going to be hard.”
“I’m prepared to make sacrifices.”
“It’s better to be doing it for my own thing, than stressing about doing the work for someone else.”
The narrative then often goes, you start something, then there is a ‘dip’ or a tough point, then you get through that, then you are home and hosed. Your dream is becoming a reality.
A dip, or ‘the dip’ conjures up a vision of a downward run into difficulty, followed by a climb back up to where you were before, back on the path to success.
In reality, building change is not about dipping off a path, it’s about climbing mountains.
There are big mountains, and small mountains, some are steep, others more gentle. There are well-known mountains with established routes to the top, and also non-conventional, less-crowded, but more difficult routes.
When you set out to change the world or build something, you are choosing a mountain to climb.
Are you choosing a mountain that has been done many times before? If yes, then perhaps because some of the pitfalls will be well known, you can anticipate certain challenges. On the flip side, you will most certainly have competition on that route because most people like to tread on paths that they can see. There are very few legitimate trailblazers in the world.
This can apply to industries and jobs and ideas that are already fairly well established.
The downhill is the easier bit, not the hard part, it happens once you summit and you’ve gotten where you want to.
If you want to get to the top quicker, because time is your main concern, you pick a smaller mountain, an easier, more visible route and you do more practice runs before you tackle it. There’s no shame in that at all.
If you want to go somewhere no one has gone before, or blaze a trail that no one else has done, from start to finish, you are choosing a tougher mountain.
This is not a dip, it is a difficult, unknown, uphill climb from day one until you get to the top. There will be almost no help, no map, no well-established place for you to rest. It will be hard, your will and resilience will be tested. There will be unknown hazards and you might be up there so long that the seasons change, you face rockslides, your gear fails, your hands and feet go numb and you are shaking from cold and hunger.
If you tap out of the climb, you never make the summit.
Leadership is not being in front of a group of people going up a well established trail, that is tour guiding. Leadership is blazing a new trail, on a new mountain.
The higher and steeper the mountain, the harder it is, the longer it will take. You cannot know all the challenges, you must only be prepared to endure whatever it takes to summit. If you come back down and never try again, you have failed.
If you come back down, up-skill, get in better shape and have another go, and another, and another until you summit… That is what resilience and commitment looks like. You can change mountains, you can jump onto a more established path, but you cannot claim to be a trail blazer at the same time. Commitment is getting to the summit you decided on at the very beginning and sticking at it until it’s done, not shopping around for easier mountains to climb.
If you are treading an established path, study up, learn, go with a guide a few times before going it alone and you’ll find the journey on your own far more predictable. If you are blazing a trail, be prepared for difficulty, for people to think you’re nuts, for risk and for pain. The less preparation you’ve done, mentally, physically, with your equipment or your team, the harder any climb will be.
If you are looking to make a change, a real, indelible, permanent and significant change, the only option is to take the hardest, steepest routes, the biggest mountains and blaze the trails that everyone else is too scared (or sane) to take.
Downhill is something to aspire to, not be scared of. The downhill is the reward. Don’t fear the dip, fear not making it to the top.
While I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of Tony Robbins, he said it well “Life's greatest rewards are reserved for those who demonstrate a never-ending commitment to act until they achieve.”
Change isn’t easy. Be a leader, not a tour guide.
- Josh Reid Jones - Founder - The Just Be Nice Project.
Just Be Nice
A collection of articles relevant to pursuing the effective execution of altruism in the search for equality of opportunity.