Do Hard Things | Notes & Review

Posted on May 26, 2010


Alex and Brett Harris. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. Multnomah Books, 2008. (241 pages)

They define rebelution as “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.” (11)

The teen years are not a vacation from responsibility. They are the training ground of future leaders who dare to be responsible now.

Chapter 3 discusses the “Myth of Adolescence” reminding us that the term “teenager” was first documented in a Reader’s Digest issue in 1941. The term “adolescence” literally means “to grow up.” (33) And our current culture is unfortunately over defined by the existence of teenagers and adolescence. Regarding expectations, one education expert says, “Our current ceiling for students is really much closer to where the floor ought to be.” (36) They make the case that expectations can be powerful in one’s life, for good or for detriment, and they make the case that in the Bible, there is no category for “teenager” or “adolescent.”

In Chapter 4, they delineate the five kinds of hard that outline the rest of the book.

1. Things that are outside your comfort zone.
2. Things that go beyond what is expected or required.
3. Things that are too big to accomplish alone.
4. Things that don’t earn an immediate payoff.
5. Things that challenge the cultural norm.

Some quotes:

We’ve noticed that the fence that keeps us from breaking out of our comfort zones is nearly always built of fear–fear of weakness, discomfort, failure, humiliation. (69)

1. God Works Through Our Weaknesses to Accomplish His Big Plans
2. Courage is Not the Absence of Fear
3.You Can’t Get to Success Without Risking Failure

Without a doubt, pushing yourself to do more than is asked, expected, or required is nearly always a lonely choice. (89)

Three strategies for stepping higher:

1. Do what’s hard for you.
2. Be known for what you do (more than for what you don’t).
3. Pursue excellence, not excuses.

They discuss complacency and offer some questions for honest reflection:

  • What areas of my life do I not care about that I know I should care about?
  • In what areas have I fallen short of God’s standards and my own potential?
  • In what areas have I settled for just getting by when I know I could do better if I really tried?
  • In what areas have I decided that things “will always be this way” without ever putting in the kind of effort that really changes things?

God has made all of us to be more effective when we work in fellowship with others.

Ten things we’ve learned about teams:

  1. Start with Questions. Seek guidance and others who are also seeking guidance from God.
  2. Walk with Wise. (Proverbs 13:20) Spend time with older, more experienced, godlier people.
  3. Don’t Overlook Home Field Advantage. Look to your family, and your parents as your primary mentors.
  4. Use Technology to Grow Your Team.
  5. Treasure Constructive Criticism.
  6. Credit Is Free if You Give It Away.
  7. Other People Are Sinners Too. The hardest thing about working with other people is that you have to work with them.
  8. Expect a Nightmare or Two. Do not be surprised when things don’t always work out. Protect yourself and your team from being discouraged by looking for God’s hand in every situation.
  9. Don’t Give Up.
  10. Success Happens (in More Ways than One). Collaboration is not just how we accomplish, it often turns into a big hard thing itself.

Chapter 8 introduces Small Hard Things, the little things we should do because “not only is it necessary…but they deliver incredible dividends in the life and future of every rebelutionary.” (134)

Five reasons why small hard things are difficult:
1) They don’t usually go away after you do them. 2) They don’t seem very important. 3) They don’t seem to make any difference. 4) They don’t seem very glamorous. 5) No one is watching.

Five ways we fail to do the small hard things:
1) Procrastination, 2) Inconsistency, 3) Compromise, 4) Begrudging, 5) Cheating

Part 3 begins with Chapter 10, “Generation Rising: Creating a counterculture from scratch [and a dash of salt].” They suggest the three values (three pillars) of the Rebelution as character, competence, and collaboration. (176)

Our vision for the Rebelution is to see these three qualities coming together in a new generation–young people who are passionate about growing in Christlikeness and sharing the gospel (character), who care deeply about skill, strategy, and creativity (competence, and who are committed to finding and working with a community of like-minded rebelutionaries (collaboration) to bring hope and healing to a lost and hurting world. (177)

Chapter 11 highlights the stories of Zach Hunter (wordpress blog), Jazzy Dytes, Brittany Lewin, Leslie and Lauren Reavely, and Brantley Gunn,

Chapter 12, “World, Meet Your Rebelutionaries: Transforming your mission from a decision into a destiny” summaries the five kinds of hard together with the five responses:

1. Things that are outside your comfort zone. – take risks to grow.
2. Things that go beyond what is expected or required. – pursue excellence.
3. Things that are too big to accomplish alone. – dreaming and daring big.
4. Things that don’t earn an immediate payoff. – being faithful and choosing integrity.
5. Things that challenge the cultural norm. – taking a stand for what is right.

What is your five step plan towards joining the rebelution?

The Appendix briefly outlines the Christian gospel, and some simple, practical steps in a beginning walk of faith.

— VIA —

I’ll be honest. My first glance at the website left me with a skeptical and almost sarcastic taste in my mouth. I love great things, and especially done by young people, but the commercialism and the hype, as it does with so many other things (cf. McLuhan) seemed to overpower the actual message, and can (perhaps is?) undermining the very revolution they’re attempting to spread. But I decided to read through the book, and, as with everything else, attempt a higher level of decorum and objectivity, and treat the authors, their book, and the movement first with respect. Here are my thoughts.

First, really in any form, I applaud the work of the young. I will have some critiques posted here, but my foundational value is to support, encourage, and continually propagate the lessons the Harris’ have outlined in their book, and spread through their speaking efforts.

Second, I applaud the adults around them who are encouraging and taking on themselves the mission to spread this message, and to raise up a generation that will flow with this momentum. It must be pointed out, that while the focus is on the young, there is a whole host of adult support of which this would not be possible had they not had their part.

Now the critiques.

Third, on page 10, once again, we see the subtle evidence of the role of adults, parents, teachers, educators, etc., in the life of young people. Like Adora Svitak, the Harris’ father “took charge,” and had them read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmud Morris, Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene, Blog by Hugh Hewitt, and The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman (to name a few). The success of the young, is really, subversively, the success of the old. That is to say, these parents are to be applauded for their efforts as they are, in many ways, more revolutionary than the youth. Why? Well, it just makes logical sense. If the young are most naturally adept at high expectations, great accomplishments, etc., and as with everything else I’ve posted on this blog (e.g., Svitak, Robinson, Canada, Gingrich, Brooks, etc.) creating environments and experiences for that greatness to thrive is what is key to its development, then the young are not to be applauded so much as the old who have created such environments. This is not to demean the efforts of the young, but merely to highlight and call to attention the efforts of the old. I believe they have, in many ways modeled for the adults as much, if not more so, than the kids have modeled for the kids.

Fourth, critique number two, in line with my third point above, this book, and anything by kids for kids will have a naturally limited audience. My personal experience with many youth who have disadvantaged homes, not just economically, but emotionally and spiritually, will never be able to take a book like this and be empowered. The negative forces at home are too great, and too strong. We’ve seen this over and over again. Context is king; environment is everything. If it is at all possible, could the parents of the Harris’, Svitak, Hunter, etc., write a book on parenting, challenging the parents, teachers, educators, youth workers, etc., to do even harder things by calling kids to higher expectations and then providing fertile soil and loving and encouraging environments that allow kids to succeed?

Fifth, and finally, the rebelution appears, from my observation (from afar) to be mainly middle to upper-class white. Getting lazy white privileged kids to think of their lives differently is to be commended. Getting white, black, latino, asian, hispanic, pacific islander, etc., kids who are oppressed every day by forces beyond their control to think of their lives different is a whole different revolution indeed, and in deed.

In spite of my criticism above, let me say again I applaud their efforts. Our youth group is going to go through this book as a curriculum for our High School program, and I’m going to be anxious to see the results. We have also set up “summer serve” opportunities to go with the curriculum so our kids can put these principles into immediate action.

Ultimately, my prayer, for our group, and for the Harris’ Rebelution, is that it bears much fruit for the Kingdom. Amen.