Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris was recommended to my by I love these sorts of recommendations because they force me to look at books that I might otherwise ignore. As soon as I started this book, I knew I’d stumbled upon a gem!

Alex and Brett are two relatively average teenagers attempting to raise the level of expectations for young people everywhere. They wrote this book after the overwhelming success from their website: The Rebelution. The book addresses the overwhelming problem that we’ve lowered the expectations placed upon young people and what we can do to begin to change that. Young people are more than capable of rising to meet higher expectations. The book is full of stories of young people from all over the country who have become Rebelutionaries by doing hard things – things not expected of them.

Raising lowered expectations of teens has been a problem for years, but has been particularly evidenced in this raising generation. Mark O writes an excellent article that addresses many of the issues addressed in Do Hard Things. He not only touches on the ever expanding adolescence but also discusses issues that the church needs to address when in ministry with youth and young adults.

Over the course of several generations, teenagers have become like captive elephants. Elephants are stronger than hundreds of men, able to move tons without effort. And yet, they are confined by a string and a stick. “How is that possible? The answer is that it has little to do with the piece of rope around the elephant’s ankle and everything to do with the invisible shackles around the elephant’s mind.” (28)

Brett and Alex are teenaged revolutionists. They began what they call a “Rebelution” or a rebelling against rebellion, a Rebelling Revolution. They have written a fantastically empowering book called “Do Hard Things.” They believe that teens can do much more than stay shackled to low expectations. “Could it be that we and most young people we know are like that elephant – strong, smart, holding incredible potential, but somehow held back by nothing more than a piece of twine? Left almost powerless by a lie? We think so. And we’ve come to believe that a big part of what holds us back as a generation is a harmless-sounding but very powerful idea we call the Myth of Adolescence.” (28-9) “For the powerful elephant, a shackle looks like a piece of twine. For young people today – a powerful , educated, and unusually blessed generation – our shackles hide in simple, deadly ideas like ‘adolescence’ and ‘teenager'” (34)

In order to begin to raise expectations, teenagers need to do hard things. Simply doing the minimum required is churning out a generation of apathy. “Life is full of scary things. You start your first day of high school. You deliver your first speech. You get married. Certain events mark important passages in our lives. Before the event you were one person. Afterward you are another. But Tyler has spent his life avoiding such firsts. The result? He’s basically the same person he’s always been.” (64) By avoiding difficult things and simply doing the very least expected, teenagers will never grow or change as people – and neither will the rest of us! This tether that holds teens down is often fear. “Fear is the fence that keeps us stuck in our comfort zones. To be fair, we usually feel fear for a reason: often something is outside that should make us afraid. The problem is when we just sit there.” (74).

Breaking the string holding us back is scary and hard, but this is the first step in living the life God has created for you – thank goodness we serve a God that doesn’t have low expectations! “Once we take that first scary step with God’s help – and keep going forward – we’ll actually experience the bigger, more fulfilling life God has in mind for us.” (84)

I read this book with our student leadership teams in mind. We have some absolutely incredible leaders in our conference that are making a difference everyday at the local church level, in their cluster groups, and in the world. Of course, we’re always stronger when we are together – which is why we work on committees and teams to accomplish goals. “We need to change the way we think about large projects and big ideas. Instead of focusing on our individual limitations, what if we stepped back, looked around, and asked, ‘Who could be motivated to tackle this with me?’ The answer to that question, as you’ll see in this chapter, makes possible a whole new range of options for rebulutionaries. The answer is collaboration – one of the three pillars of the Rebelution.” (109-110) – the idea of collaboration is not new to the students in the Central Texas Conference! Our leadership teams, whether at the district, cluster, or conference level, all utilize collaboration to make sure that everyone is using their best skills and passions to accomplish as task. Our mid-winter committee has divided into sub committees in order to have students and adults serve out of their gifts including worship, activity planning, logistics, follow-up, and curriculum. 

As we plan Mid-Winter Retreats, mission experiences, and worship events, as leaders we are called to do the hard things, not the things that will necessarily gain notoriety. “…Martin Luther King Jr. addressed this issue for those in all walks of life: ‘If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweet streets like Beethoven composed music…Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.” Like the street sweeper, your actions at home, at school, at church, and elsewhere in your community can bring honor and glory to God if you are willing to throw yourself into them 100 percent just because they’re things [God] has given you to do.” (144) In order to change lives, even the small things need to be done with great glory.
Of course, there are always things we just don’t want to do. As adult leaders, it is our responsibility to model the servant attitude. “Don’t get a reputation for always being against everything: be for something. Try not to point out problems without providing solutions. Make it your goal to show people a better way – God’s way – not just that their current direction is wrong.” (161) If you complain about something, be prepared to be put in charge of fixing it!
“…we want to ask a very serious and exciting question: could it be that teenagers today are faced with a unique opportunity to do hard things – not just as individuals, but as a generation? And not just any hard things but big, history-shaping ones? To put it another way, could it be that our particular crop of young people has been placed on earth at this pivotal time in history for a reason?” (170) It is our responsibility as youth leaders to not only believe that students can and will do hard things, but to encourage them as they raise to the challenge. They will face opposition from those who refuse to raise their expectations and we need to speak out in solidarity with the young people who are changing the world.
The book concludes with a practical way to make the rebulution stick. This book, like Mid-Winter Retreat, CTCYM, or a really moving night of worship can be mountain-top experiences for youth. This final chapter teaches young people how to act on their energy and plan in tangible ways. We can talk about changing the world on the mountain top or we can come back down and do it.
If you are working with youth, want to see the world become a better place because of young leadership, or are a young leader, I highly recommend Do Hard Things. If you want a marked up copy, you’re welcome to borrow mine!

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