Table of Contents
There's a quote I love to hate.
But it's also a quote I can't get out of my head.
It's the "choose your hard" quote, also known as the "pick your hard" quote.
If you haven't heard of it, the "Choose your hard" quote goes like this:
Marriage is hard. Divorce is hard. Choose your hard.
Obesity is hard. Being fit is hard. Choose your hard.
Being in debt is hard. Being financially disciplined is hard. Choose your hard.
Communication is hard. Not communicating is hard. Choose your hard.
Life will never be easy. It will always be hard. But we can choose our hard.
Pick wisely.” — Unknown
Kind of obnoxious, isn't it?
Yet, there's truth to it.
Let's discuss how to make hard choices in life, both when you should make them and when you shouldn't.
1. Choosing the hard path leads to better mental health
Every time I've taken the harder path in life, I've come out the other side with more meaning.
What I mean is that pushing myself to do difficult things forced me to grow. It wasn't what I wanted to do, but it was what I needed to do.
I live with anxiety and OCD, and when things are really bad, this can spiral downward into depression.
Years ago, I dealt with this by trying to escape it.
But that only increased the intensity of the feelings.
It's only by accepting whatever horrible feelings I have that I'm able to integrate them into my life and move forward.
It's really hard to accept that I'm a person who frequently has to deal with anxiety and intrusive thoughts, but once I get past the storylines I create for myself, I can do the hard work to feel better.
And that always means addressing what I'm dealing with head-on.
2. Choosing the hard way improves hard situations
How often have you been in an uncomfortable conversation that made you want to scream?
Let's back up for a second.
How often have you avoided a hard conversation because it made you want to scream?
What happened when you avoided it?
Did it make the underlying issues go away?
Or did it simply postpone inevitable pain--and make that pain sharper in the process?
Hard situations are made harder when we don't address whatever it is that scares us. Fear is an amplifying device.
You can read all the books in the world about having difficult conversations and making difficult decisions, but it will do no good if you don't take the actions you need to take.
Did a friend hurt you? You will eventually need to address it or the bad feeling will linger.
Did a family member cross a boundary? Reinforcing the boundary will be uncomfortable but is necessary so that it doesn't keep happening.
Taking the hard approach is showing up with your truth and seeing how the world responds.
It's better to know if people will honor you as you really are. Life is too short to accept less for yourself so that you can "keep the peace."
The hard path is the authentic one. After all, you need to live with yourself, so you might as well live in as truthful a way as possible.
3. When the "Choose your hard" chooses you
But what if something terrible happens to you that you didn't choose?
What if the world delivers you a crushing blow?
This has happened to me a number of times.
The one that hit the hardest was when I found out I had to have heart surgery at the age of 24.
I had been completely healthy and athletic my whole life and then, BAM, I learned my heart was failing and I would need surgery to replace my aortic valve within months.
I was suddenly face-to-face with my own mortality, and the surgery meant that I would have to change my lifestyle, including giving up team sports and mountain biking.
I had moved to Montana recently and was fully enjoying getting into outdoor activities for the first time.
But life had other plans for me.
To add insult to injury, the surgery triggered a cascading impact of mental health issues that were hiding beneath the surface. Just as I was able to recover from the physical impact of the surgery, depression took over my life and stayed around for years.
It didn't help that I learned how common mental health issues were after a major surgery like that. It didn't matter that I was still a young, active guy.
I had to deal with the fact that my mental health had plummeted.
So I chose therapy.
And I kept choosing therapy even when it didn't seem like it was working out. And I even went to the ER when doctors were throwing all kinds of medicine at me and things were getting worse.
I felt like a failure for months.
But looking back on it now, 7-8 years after the worst of it happened, I realize choosing myself and choosing to take care of my mental health was one of the most courageous actions I've ever taken.
It gave me the opportunity to get better, and it revealed to me how helpful I can be to others who are struggling.
I've since gotten a Master of Social Work degree and worked in several positions in the mental health field.
4. How to pick your hard (When you shouldn't choose certain hards)
When I first read the "choose your hard" quote, I hated it. I recoiled in disgust.
Because it felt toxic. My initial reaction hid the shreds of truth that were in there.
But everything is nuanced.
There is a toxic element to this quote and mindset.
There is a class of people for whom everything should be difficult for others. And it's because of the way they, themselves feel.
Whether it's the "hustle porn" subculture or toxic masculinity, some people don't want to ever give anyone the benefit of the doubt.
It's one thing to want to push yourself to the limit and reach new levels in your personal growth journey, but there's another phrase for people who have absolutely no tolerance for others.
They're called abusive people.
Smart people don't push themselves at all costs.
Smart people don't berate themselves with negative self-talk day in and day out.
No, a truly empowered person is a master of self-awareness--and that means seeing the good and the bad inside of themselves.
It means working hard, but it also means scheduling blocks of time for rest and relaxation.
What it comes down to are the stories you tell yourself.
If you're constantly saying that life is hard and that you need to choose your hard at all costs, then you will warp your worldview.
But there's another way to be.
Instead of "choosing your hard," what if you let life be as it is?
What if you accepted difficulty, chose difficulty when life required it, and eased into the beauty of life when that was the more natural path?
Strength comes from knowing yourself and knowing what feels right to you.
If your body has a genetic predisposition to not tolerate certain kinds of activity, don't do it.
You don't have to exercise in the ways that others do.
When I couldn't do certain things after heart surgery, I didn't give up. I chose to get into hiking and body-weight exercises instead.
I realized that buying into the "harder" notion that I should still push my body to the limit was not the way to go for me. Being on blood thinners now for the rest of my life, continuing to follow the same workout routine would have put my life at risk.
So I made the decision that was actually the hard thing for me: acknowledging my new limitations and finding a new way forward.