Do Hard Things is an unusual book. It was written by two teenagers for other teenagers. Its message is blunt and challenging: that young people should rebel against the culture of low expectations of what teenagers are capable of.
The book starts like this:
‘Most people don’t expect you to understand what we’re going to tell you in this book. And even if you understand, they don’t expect you to care. And even if you care, they don’t expect you to do anything about it. And even if you do something about it, they don’t expect it to last.’
A different kind of book
The clarity of their message comes from their personal experience of taking up challenges and encouraging many others to do the same (their website has had over 35 million hits):
“What you are holding in your hands right now is a challenging book for teens by teens who believe our generation is ready for a change. Ready for something which doesn’t promise a whole new life if you’ll just buy the right pair of jeans or use the right kind of deodorant. We believe our generation is ready to rethink what teens are capable of doing and becoming. And we’ve noticed that once wrong ideas are debunked and cleared away, our generation is quick to choose a better way, even if it’s also more difficult.’
The myth of adolescence
After exploring the very brief history of teenage life (Readers Digest only coined the term in 1941) they expose what they call the ‘myth of adolescence’ which promotes the idea of an extended gap between childhood and adulthood. They challenge the idea that teenage years are a time when you are only waiting for ‘real life’ to begin.
The central theme is to challenge the culture of low expectations. They forcefully make the point that the bar for teenagers has been set way too low – that so many people expect teenagers to simply ‘goof around’ and success is defined simply as the avoidance of problems. Their message is that teenagers are capable of so much more.
Dismissing the challenge
Critics might say it’s easy for the Harris’ brothers to be saying this kind of stuff. They are clearly from a supportive and secure family, are blessed with talent, good looks and confidence to burn. Also many of their references clearly align them with the more conservative side of US politics and Christian culture.
But it would be wrong for these observations to be used to dismiss the challenge of the book. Most of the stories and examples shared they give are to do with what teenagers can do for others, through engagement in public life, charity work and social justice. This is no ‘health and wealth’ message of personal advancement.
Five types of hard things
Their summary of the ‘five types of hard things’ that they urge fellow teenagers to do are relevant for us all:
- Things which are outside your comfort zone
- Things which go beyond what is expected or required
- Things that are too big to accomplish alone
- Things which don’t earn an immediate payoff
- Things which challenge the cultural norm
Like a lot of good books and resources aimed at youth, it’s actually contains an important message for everyone.
Alex and Brett Harris’ website is called The Rebelution