Most of us know the feeling; it’s one I associate with new year’s resolutions. You’ve decided to begin drafting your HBS application or start a new diet, a new non-profit venture or a new exercise routine. You are finally going to begin writing your novel, recording your podcast or posting in your blog. Whatever your goal, you are filled with excitement, energy, passion and determination. You know that it is going to be a lot of hard work. But you want to work hard. You are ready. You can see it, taste it…bring it on! You read inspirational quotes and you feel so inspired and determined.
This is what I call “pretty” hard work. (I mean, aren’t those quotes pretty?)
We all have good intentions because we understand that important goals take a lot of hard work. But what I have discovered is that while most people can tackle the pretty hard work, the going gets really tough when the work gets ugly.
Envision an entrepreneur in the early days of business, armed with an idea about which they are passionate. They sit at their desk with a list of work to be done: come up with a name, design a logo, hire a web designer, open an AdWords account, purchase the QuickBooks software. They work long hours, focused and determined. Day after day, they show up, answering the phone, scheduling meetings and catching up on email. They are busy, They are working hard. It’s both challenging and exhilarating.
Speaking from my personal experience, it’s never really happened quite like that. That’s a glamorized, pretty vision of hard work. In reality, it gets ugly and sometimes rather dark. Personally, I was filled with self-doubt, uncertainty and frustration. I worked hard to prep for a seminar that only one person showed up to. I had months when not one single person signed up for my services, the phone never rang and inquiries never came in. I was juggling several client deadlines and both my nanny and I got sick. I had to scramble for sub-optimal childcare so that I could sit at my desk all day with a big box of tissues, absolutely miserable but plowing through those client essays. After pouring my heart into one of my very early client’s applications, he posted a scathing online review that took me by surprise and rattled me to the point of tears. (I have since developed a thicker skin.) My right-hand woman left to go back to school. A former employee launched a competing venture, literally copying my website word for word. A vendor ran off with a big chunk of money, never to be heard from again.
My challenges are tiny compared to ones faced by other much more well-known entrepreneurs who face daily lawsuits, receive very public criticism and make risky investments that have the potential to completely wipe out the company.
It gets hard. But not the pretty, exciting kind of hard we dream of plowing through with enthusiasm. It gets hard where you really doubt what you are doing, are on the verge of giving up, where you are scared and stressed and up all night tossing and turning with anxiety. It gets ugly hard.
In honor of Halloween, here is Freddy Kruger, the Ugly hard mascot:
I say this not to turn everyone away from pursuing big dreams. I say it so that you are prepared. When things get really scary and go terribly wrong and you are about to shut it all down, that’s when you need to roll up your sleeves and get to work. These are not unfortunate anomalies that only happen to you. This is the real hard work. This is the work that most people can’t make it through.
If you can make it through the ugly, that’s when the magic can happen.