Who says following your dreams shouldn't be hard?

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I was on a coaching call with a client.  We were reviewing his target market, business model and strategy.  At about halfway through the call, his voice got choked with emotion.

"I have just put so much effort and energy into this and am not seeing the results I expected.  I know I am meant to do this work.  I love it.  Why does it have to be so hard?"
My first reaction was to comfort him, and to search for a quick solution that would start the flow of clients his way in just the manner he desired.
Then I thought, who said anything is wrong with things being hard?
I have come to the realization that we cause ourselves a lot of stress by believing that if we just choose the right business, or quit our loathsome job, or find the perfect internet marketing system, or get that book deal that things will become easy.
Why is easy desirable?
Anything I have done that I consider worthwhile in my life: building a martial arts organization, finding the man I truly love, mentoring youth, writing a book, creating a remote coaching business and having children have all been extremely difficult at times.
I think it is the difficulty that makes the success juicy sweet.
In technology-fueled modern business, we are addicted to immediate results.  We jump at anything that will take something complex and make it appear simple.  We believe the hype when internet marketers promise instant six figures a year when you sign up for their limited-time 4-figure program (at least you know they will hit six figures this year!).
There are some tricks to setting up an efficient business with minimal effort.  And there are some really great people out there who have good information to share that will be worth the investment.
But you will only get the return on your investment when you really work the process.   In my own experience, I have invested in classes that had a very poor return not because the information wasn’t valuable, but because I didn’t take the time to do the homework.  And I have absolutely killed results when I applied myself and took the content in other classes seriously.
The process of hard work vs. quick tricks makes me think of my initial reaction to a few stories in Four Hour Workweek.  I really like and admire Tim Ferriss, and think he has fantastic advice in his book.  But as a former serious martial artist, what bothered me about his story of technically winning a martial art championship by interpreting rules instead of studying for years is that I felt he missed the discipline, stamina and growth that comes from doing thousands of push ups and sit ups, training when you would rather stay home on the couch, and getting your face smashed on the floor hundreds of times.  This, in my own experience,  is what deepened my understanding of and love for the art.   
I don’t think that Tim meant to say that scrapping together a victory on the dance floor or martial art ring was his end game.  He has demonstrated with his incredibly detailed blog posts and rigorous speaking schedule that he believes at working hard at the right things.
And the right things are different for each of us.
Here is my take on "bad hard" vs. "good hard":
Bad hard
  • Trying as hard as you can to appear smart, professional and accomplished in a field you secretly loathe
  • Trying to force someone to love you, who doesn’t
  • Spending twelve hours on an administrative task that is complex, boring and not your strength when someone smart could do it in 30 minutes for fifty bucks
  • Doing lots of standard processes manually (like sending 6 emails back and forth to set up a meeting instead of using an online scheduling tool)
  • Working with people over an extended period of time who are not your ideal clients
  • Scattering your efforts over multiple projects so that you don’t have the proper time and attention any one of them deserves
Good hard
  • Trying as hard as you can to get a business you love off the ground, running into unforeseen snags and getting different results than you expected
  • Spending days, weeks and months and sometimes years figuring out your ideal customer and working like a dog to serve them great stuff
  • Taking on big challenges that push against emotional, mental and physical boundaries
  • Sharing your project, or idea or product with people you admire when you don’t feel it is quite ready for prime time in order to get feedback that will make it useful and effective
  • Meeting unexpected life challenges with both pragmatism and optimism.  As Jim Collins shared so eloquently in Good to Great, illustrating what he calls the Stockdale Paradox: "You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulty, AND at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be."

What I am going to tell my client next time if he says "This is hard!" is "EXCELLENT!  When you are doing the right things, leading your tribe, tackling tough problems and creating truly useful products and services, it shouldn’t be easy."

But it sure will be good.

37 Responses to “Who says following your dreams shouldn't be hard?”

  1. Pam, This is my first time reading your blog and I really like it, especially this post.
    I’ve known all too well some of the “bad” hard characteristics you describe. I’ve also known some of the good, too.

  2. Lisa says:

    Thanks for this great post.I considered the last couple of days to be really rough so I needed to read this.

  3. Is following your passion hard work?

    I was recently forwarded a post that said that following your dreams is not necessarily easy – in fact it can be hard. While I agree with the basic elements of this post, I have difficulty with the word ‘hard’. If I’m passionate about it, it ain’t ha…

  4. Ravi says:

    Great post. I think a key point you make is one point under what is ‘bad hard’: Trying as hard as you can to appear smart, professional and accomplished in a field you secretly loathe.

    Doing what you loathe sucks energy. Doing what you love connects you with your passion. While you may hit challenges, your passion is where you refuel to keep moving forward. To me, if I’m passionate, I don’t see it as work. I may hit frustrations at times, but what I’m doing is my passion, and I’m absolutely clear I’m getting where I want to go. This is simply the how, and the journey is the value, as has been said, of reaching the goal.

  5. Jon Peltier says:

    Excellent post. I don’t mind things being hard. But I notice my hard things are divided between good hard and bad hard.

    For example, I don’t know what really defined my ideal client, but I have some who are pretty close, and others who are nowhere near ideal. Time to cull the ranks.

  6. Pam – your stirring post reminds me of George Leonard’s book “Mastery” –
    in which he talk very honestly (from his Aikido background) of long periods spent on the “plateau” as a necessary (and over time, even lovable) component of striving for mastery.

  7. Bravo,Pam, for telling it like it is! While it’s true that when we are in the right place at the right time doing the right thing we might feel the wind blessedly at our backs (aka, synchronicity, grace, etc.) there is also an image presented in the I Ching about heaping up, oh, let’s say, one stone at a time, until a mountain is eventually created. In my experience that takes a whole lot of rock piling! ๐Ÿ™‚ But worth it.

  8. Cris Cohen says:

    I think a lot of depression and discouragement comes from buying into the myth of the overnight success.

  9. Pam – this is wonderful. Instead of writing my own post on this subject I have just sent my readers over to you. No way I could improve on this message!

  10. chris Zydel says:

    Hi Pam,

    What a great post and so profoundly true. I have a friend who had bought into all the “Secret- Law of Attraction” stuff in a way that was actually very toxic for her. She was afraid to want something badly enough to make the effort and do the necessary hard work to actually make it happen. She justified her strategy by telling herself that if something didn’t come easy it just wasn’t meant to be. And of course, as a consequence, she had a very empty and unfulfilling life.

    When she asked me how I was able to “manifest’ all of the successes I had in my life I told her that I had discovered that anything truly meaningful and worth having was always in some way a major pain in the a__! Essentially the message that you just delivered but in a much less elegant way!

    And of course all of this effort and difficulty and hard work is so, so worth it because it leads to a profound experience of joy and contentment, a bone deep sense of purpose and sweetness that is almost impossible to describe and unlike anything else that I have ever tasted.

    Thanks for your courage in speaking about this and thanks for the list of “good hard and bad hard.” That was incredibly useful!


  11. Sergio says:

    What a most excellent post!! This really gets to the core!

    I see how instant gratification has become an obsession of so many people.

    I was watching a documentary on Tom Petty the other day. He was saying that he wanted to be rockstar since he was a kid. It was his dream and he worked very, very hard at it.

    They were saying that now, what many kids want is sing a song and make it to American Idol right away. They don’t want to go through all the sacrifice and struggles.

    Great post Pam, thanks again for a good kick in the ass.


  12. I’ve come across some tough problems in developing my blog and business. I try not to look at them as tough, but as a way to develop myself into a stronger and smarter person.

    That’s the key.

    It depends on how we look at the situation. One person’s difficulty is another person’s stepping stone.

  13. Thank you so much for this post…I agree completely that it take hard work and courage to put yourself out there and drive toward your passions and goals. The hard work doesn’t feel as hard when you are inspired by and love what you are doing. Important to recognized the hurtles along the way as part of the evolution. Seems like there are more people now than ever willing to “think outside of the box.” My blog is about dreaming big and living authentically. Can’t wait to do some major link love with yours! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Paula G says:

    Post really touched me both for my own journey & working with clients. I sometimes think people mistake ease for easy. Meaning — I can work very hard, but find the work to have an ease about it, a joy. Much like I find biking and exercising to be a joy & mostly an ease to do because I enjoy it & I am working to a goal. Same can be true when I choose marketing that FITS me.

    Flowing like water means a sense of ease…not necessarily easy. Downstream has an ease about it but is not necessarily “easier” in the quick fix, quick results sense. Ask a whitewater boater, right?

    Great to be hearing from you via posts again ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Gwen says:

    Dear Pam,
    well Iยดm so happy that I stuck with this blog – this is such a very good post which I recommended already and which I printed for me to look at and recalibrate my work (not only entrepeneurlike but also my job). Thank you very much.

    A little off topic:
    Also thank you deeply for your thoughtful answer to my more critical post – I really appreciated your stance and comment which taught me how to react to critic in a constructive way. Again, I very much appreciate your blog!

  16. Pamela Slim says:

    Thanks everyone for your great comments! It sounds like we are all in the same boat.

    It is a bit of a tough concept to explain … I personally have experienced tons of flow, ease and joy while doing something exceptionally hard, like writing my book.

    @Anna and @Tom, my thought for your question is that there is absolutely a natural flow when you are doing work you are meant to do. It feels good in your body, makes you happy while you are doing it, and usually has bigger repercussions, aka making meaning in your life, not just money. But in the course of using such skills (aka coaching in Anna’s case) to meet a challenging goal (like build a successful coaching business), there will be some inevitably tough times.

    Martha Beck helped me to see this — as I was stressing out a few months ago while writing my book in the midst of my husband’s industry melting down, she said “Writing a book is pure hell at times! Get through a small piece of the agony, then give yourself a reward. Do this on a consistent basis and pretty soon, the book will get done.”

    The biggest impact of this advice was to stop beating myself up for feeling stressed that I was not always in “The Zone” while writing. When I did this, I actually had a lot more wonderful moments when I sat back after cranking out a page and thought “I am meant to do this work, this is pure joy!”

    So, like childbirth, there is ecstasy in the agony. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Keep the comments coming. Great stuff.


  17. Sarah says:

    Sometimes dreams come easy and sometimes they come hard. I am like what Sital (comment on 11/10/08) said . . . because the fact of the matter for me is . . . when you come to the end of your life, and you look back over where you have been . . . what really matters? If your dreams match up with what really matters to you . . . pursue, pursue, pursue โ€“ no matter how hard the road. If not, eh . . . you may want to reconsider. I read a knol/blog on this topic that gave me some perspective: http://knol.google.com/k/pat-parlsom/only-one-business-life-to-live/3djifv0fcvlj/28#.

  18. You Build Dreams, not Just Follow Them

    There was a scene in one of those old black-and-white movies in which the fabulously rich guy is asked the secret of success and he answers: “choose rich parents.” For the rest of us, it has to do with work….

  19. Seth Godin’s “The Dip” offers an interesting perspective, too. (I’ve linked it from my name attached to this post.)

  20. Leah Maclean says:

    Brava Pam !!

    I would like to chime in here with my support for you and the thoughts you share in this post. I percieve that many of the problems that we experience in the community, in our families and in the business world come from wanting the “quick fix”. If there needs to be hard work, a hard conversation or a hard call many people want to steer clear.

    Unfortunately there are many coaches that don’t have your knack for truth telling and for having one foot grounded in reality – they just want to sell their clients the easy ride. It is wonderful to see that you are the type of coach the provides real value in reality for your clients.

    My experience is that flow comes not when things are easy but when you are working hard doing the things you love. In my flow moments I am busily working away on a design or a strategy for a client and before I know it 4 or 5 or 8 hours have flown by. During that time I’ve been working hard but doing work that I love.

    Keep up the great work or inspiring *real* business people.

  21. Too right~ we in the West seem so put out by a bit of difficulty; like we are entitled to a stress free life~ may as well be a rock! Our culture revolves around ways to avoid going *through* difficulties and pain~one would think that Plato’s writings, on which we base Capitalism, had the heroes swanning around with life coming to them on a platter

  22. Hey P,

    I so agree. Here’s another way that I look at it. The easier something is, the more competition there’ll be, because more people will throw their hats in the ring. So, the more you work at something that’s meaningful and doable, but hard, the fewer people you have to compete with, because most people drop like flies once the hard work starts.

    Also, truth is, we are happiest when we are striving for meanigful achievement, often moreso than when we actually get what we’ve been working for. So, striving, even striving hard is a good thing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. CK Reyes says:

    Pam, everything on your good hard list pulls me emotionally. I connect personally with each one. I can attest that good hard works and bad hard doesn’t. With Good Hard there is a flow with my commitment and an unwavering faith that my passion and consistent action carries me through. Thanks for the reminder that I am on track!

  24. Kathlyn says:

    I love the idea of someone saying “this is hard” and replying with “excellent!” I might add, “excellent – you’re DOING it!” and maybe even a “yay!” It’s not always fun, it’s not always easy, but to really achieve anything, there’s no substitute for working hard at something that captures your imagination, and it’s always worth it, no matter what the outcome!

    Thanks for this – was a great and timely post!!

  25. Kudos to you for mentioning the unmentionable – that success only comes with hard work. The help/self-help field all too often carries with it the whiff of snake oil and your comments are a welcome antidote.

  26. Julie Malloy says:

    Exactly what we were chatting about last week! Think this would be a great topic for our North Start class tonight – we all have a steep hill to climb – but it’s the journey!!

  27. robert says:


    This is yet another stunner of a post! The stark, harsh and sudden realisation that just being passionate about your startup niche is insufficient is revealing.

    And undoubtedly for many entrepreneurs, this moment in the young business’s timeline is a defining one. The harsh reality that it will take a lot of very hard work and many, many anxious periods of doubt will be crucial to the continued success of the business and confidence of the owner.

    Your post bares it all for us. And while not liking some of the message, you present us with the Stockdale Paradox which is too juicy to ignore.

  28. I agree that often business building can seem like hard work especially if we resist challenging tasks instead of keeping our head up and looking for the openings. Hard can be hard or it can be easier depending on your point of view.

    If we truly wish to build a business authentically then we will be much more often on the side of what you call “good hard”.

    I also would be interested in your response to Anna’s question. It’s a good one that I can see both sides of.

  29. Steve Errey says:

    All too true Pam. Doing anything worthwhile can be tough as hell, but that doesn’t mean that you have to suffer, struggle or fight your way through.

    I think the trick is not to make your happiness dependent on the outcome, but to chose to operate from that place today. Right now.

    Of course, when you’ve three dozen things to do, not enough time to do them and a bunch of other demands on your time and resources, that’s easier said than done.

    That’s where it takes a brutal self-honesty to notice what’s happening, to notice how you’re looking at things and to make adjustments that allow you to play with more ease and lightness.

  30. Fantastic. I really needed this.

    Sometimes I get down on myself before I’ve even started because I interpret difficulties as an indication of failure on my behalf – I should have been prepared, done it better, known the answer.

    But it’s not all about me. Sometimes it’s just plain hard. My success or failure is determined by how I work through the hard stuff.

  31. Gannon Beck says:

    Nicely said, Pam.

    I’ve frequently joked that no one would ever start a business if they really knew how hard it is. You find out who you truly are when you throw yourself up against such a difficult challenge. That alone, is reason enough to recommend it.

  32. Here’s a bit more in keeping with the dream theme Pam,, my buddy Gary,, inspiration is always awesome!


    Keep the great stuff coming!

  33. Justin says:

    I’ve gotten into the habit of asking myself “How badly do you want this?” ‘Cause the things that are worth it are usually really hard to pull off. It would be so easy to just sit back and say a thing cannot be done. Most do that, yeah? So most don’t even fail, yeah?

    Thanks for sharing this. Very inspiring as I fight to keep focused on my personal projects.

  34. Another “thank you for speaking the truth,” Pam. There’s a lot going on here, too much for one comment.

    I’ve been at this almost two years, and it’s been a hell of a ride so far. I’m definitely not where I wanted/expected to be, but I have to say I like what the process is doing to me as a person.

    This stuff is deep. What other single endeavor requires us to explore and figure out absolutely fundamental questions like “What do I want to be known for?”, “Who can I help?”, and “How do I help them?” In corporate life we ask these questions only during crisis or once-in-a-lifetime mediation retreats. For me, nailing the answers down has been like chasing fog. Sometimes I think I’ve got it only to have it dissipate in my hands.

    So one lesson I’m learning that it’s a process, and it (apparently) can’t be predicted or prescribed. The path is unknown (unknowable?), so some groping, dead ends, and frustrations are expected.

    An important question I have for you is how to enjoy the ride during this. I think being comfortable with the unknown is easier for some than others. Like any cliche, “Its the journey not the destination” is both trivial and profound, depending on whether you were in the shoes of the person who coined it.

    But come hell or high water, I won’t stop plodding, struggling, and savor those little (and big) successes. Steven Pressfield’s been a real inspiration during this – reading “The War of Art” lets you know someone else gets it. While it might seem dark (as we might say about your “who says it’s easy?”), hearing the honest truth is surprising reassuring:

    > “The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.”

    Are we going to quit? No. All of us reading you have something inside us that has to get out. We have to spread the word, and we have no choice. It’s the sacred work (this from an atheist!) and no one else can do it.

    Now I’m going to cry, eat some ice cream, and get back to work. Thanks!

  35. Sital says:

    Great post.

    Agreed, anything worth achieving requires had work. Starting a business, writing a book or running a race all require you to stretch, hit a few brick walls and feel a bit of pain along the way. Suppose it’s nature’s test to ensure you really want it.

    Which is why you should always always start a business that you are passionate about – its that passion and energy that provides the fuel to endure the hard work and scale those brick walls with the going gets tough.

  36. Anna says:

    Hi Pam,

    This is a great article! However some coaches keep saying that if you are following your dreams, everything is like going downstream, i.e. easy. They say one should not go against the flow. What’s your take on this?

    Thank you.

  37. Pace says:


    Thank you. This post brought tears to my eyes. It was exactly what I needed to hear right now.