Hard Things Are Hard, But That's OK

By Tyler Jefford • October 21st 2020 • 4 min read

People, teams, companies, relationships all go though hard times. I always think about a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor".

As I emerge from a mountain of work with my team and look back, I am feeling extra retrospective on how things could’ve be different and what outcomes we may have had. On the other hand, learning what we have may be the foundation to how the team grows in the future.

I have outlined a few things I think about and try to instill in my team and work ethic as I or my teams face challenges and difficult times.

Hard is relative

First thing I want to get out of the way is the definition of hard. This is relative to each individual, as well as entities like teams and organizations. Challenging tasks, projects and policies can all be hard in the eye of the beholder and over time, with experience doing those things, become easy.

Personally its pretty easy to assess if something is hard based on how well you understand it and if you can complete the task at hand. For me, learning Vue seemed like a tremendous goal, and over time I finally conquered that task. Jumping in was hard, going through many iterations of failed app builds was hard.

For a team, you have to get the pulse of the people that make up the team. You want some that feel like a job is impossible, others with a ton of ambition. You need a good balance to work together to accomplish the task. If you have a whole team who is questioning their ability to deliver, it may be an indicator that that project is hard.

What can you do as a manager when things are hard?

I say it a million times, but as a leader it’s important to listen. How are individual people affected by this hard project? Are they uncomfortable with the work they are producing, or not feeling like they are producing anything at all?

You and everyone in your team may be going through the same challenges at an organization level, but each person has a different perspective than everyone else. So it’s important to understand mindset of your team, feel rooted in the why and the how.

Things can be overwhelming. In projects that are demanding of time, give time off. Shift the workload around to lighten up the pressure on individuals.

When it feels like someone is fighting an up hill battle, give them space to slip. Build a strong support net behind them to let them slip and not miss the next move. Give them the space needed to learn what is working and what is not. If they have a bunch of tasks on their plate, help them redistribute so they can keep growing.

Looking for benefits in these hard times

Its easy to look at the wall in front of you and feel hopeless. Even with a support network and the promise of greener pastures on the other side. It’s also very important to acknowledge the hard time for being hard. If you ignore the challenge it doesn’t go away, it probably gets harder.

I tell myself and my team to focus on the upsides to the down times. With organizational challenges, it presents opportunities to change how things work. If the way we use to work isn’t working, then lets change it.

For conflicts with team communication, look at the opportunities to improve our process, look at tools and how we can all be on the same page earlier. Take this moment to reach out to the other leaders you are having a hard time communicating with and hit the reset button. Start over with a “I think we need to better align on this, because I think we are not working at our best here”.

If you take the opportunities to evaluate things when they are hard, and build up new processes and procedures now, when things are easy, it’ll feel like the smooth sea we dreamed of.

The smooth sea

Like the quote said, a smooth sea doesn’t make a skilled sailor. But without the stormy sea, we wouldn’t appreciate the smooth times and without the smooth times, we wouldn’t grow into the best ship captain on the ocean.

Keep an eye on when the storm is approaching, have a plan in place for when the boat is rocking, and come out the other side knowing you learned how to patch a couple holes in the ship as it splashed through the night.

While it’s important to not put ourselves in the hard path, we shouldn’t shy away from hard things. Difficult times help us grow, it can mean we are out of our comfort zone and trying new things. Risking our safety for the experience we need to grow.