Embracing the Hard Things: The Pathway to Ultimate Reward

We often dream of endpoints. Travelling to a certain place, launching a product or achieving a goal we set ourselves. But as we move through life as humans we come to realise that arriving at a point is often anti-climatical. Nothing stops, things continue. Our lives might be changed forever but the next day is day one again.

It is in fact the journey that took us to those endpoints which is the most fascinating. And in that journey it is often the challenges or obstacles that you have to overcome that are in fact the most rewarding. We remember most the toughest paths, not those that come easily.

In product management, as in life, the temptation of the easy path can be alluring. We’re often enticed by the comfort of familiarity and the appeal of low-hanging fruit. Yet, as Ben Horowitz famously articulates in his book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” the less trodden route – the path fraught with challenges and obstacles – is often where the most profound rewards lie.

There is a question of how ‘tough’ should we have it – surely our daily lives cannot be fraught with impossibilities? But I’d argue that life is very much like a hamster wheel. As in my G/A/I/N framework you’re never ‘done’ and so keeping some healthy friction in your day to day can be rewarding. What will you do this week to challenge yourself or solve a complex problem? Where will that take you?

Embracing Challenges Sparks Growth

When you’re building products success isn’t just about delivering features; it’s about solving intricate problems and meeting the needs of diverse stakeholders. By tackling the toughest challenges head-on, we push ourselves to grow, innovate, and evolve. Each obstacle presents an opportunity for learning and enhancement, ultimately shaping us into more resilient and effective leaders. As one challenge is overcome, another will ultimately present itself.

Take Deliveroo for example. They solved food delivery and raised the expectations of consumers in this area. But growth plateaued and Deliveroo had to find new challenges – they were able to partner with grocery stores to expand their portfolio. Who would have imagined that Deliveroo can now deliver shower heads for example?! (With their Screwfix partnership).

Resilience in the Face of Adversity

Research supports the notion that confronting adversity fosters resilience. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, individuals who regularly confront and overcome challenges exhibit higher levels of psychological well-being and satisfaction with life. By embracing the hard things, we cultivate the fortitude to weather storms and emerge stronger on the other side.

Innovation Through Struggle

Some of the most groundbreaking innovations have emerged from the crucible of adversity. Take, for instance, the story of Airbnb, which faced numerous setbacks and rejections before achieving monumental success. By persevering through hardship and refusing to succumb to defeat, the founders transformed their challenges into opportunities, revolutionising the travel industry in the process.

Building a Resilient Community

Something I’ve learnt over the years is the value of community. By openly sharing our struggles and triumphs, we foster a culture of collaboration and support. As a product manager, cultivating a following on platforms like LinkedIn or product groups enables you to amplify your voice, share your insights, and connect with like-minded individuals who are also navigating the complexities of the industry. I’ve found coaching product people and sharing stories with likeminded colleagues in groups a great boost for collective morale and inspiration.

Embrace the Hard Things

In the words of Ben Horowitz, “The hard thing isn’t always the right thing, but it’s usually the right thing to do.” Embracing the hard things in life – whether in product management or beyond – is not merely about seeking out difficulty for its own sake. It’s about recognising that true growth and fulfilment often stem from overcoming challenges, pushing boundaries, and venturing into the unknown.

Embrace the hard things. Challenge yourself to tackle the most daunting problems, to innovate in the face of adversity, and to build a community of resilient leaders who support each other on the path to success.

This applies in the product world but more often than not in your own personal life. Remember that the destination may shift but the journey will always be memorable.