Struggling with struggling: from homework to real work to impact

September 26, 2011 by Jared Goralnick

Harry Goralnick, someone who always is willing to learn and growIn 5 days I turn 30.  Cue the tiny violins.  The truth is, I’m not struggling.  But perhaps that’s the problem.

Remember when we had homework and tests?  It was tedious and difficult to get A’s.  But even without a report card, the best results require the same struggle.

I hated high school, but I recall my last two years idyllically: most days I arrived by 7:30, attended seven classes, ran competitively at the track, and then spent 3-hours in a nearby university’s computer science class.  And I did well, even if my moniker “dot com” was hardly offered with affection.

While I enjoyed the subjects, let’s be honest—few of us would’ve labored through so many chapters or worked out so many math problems if it wasn’t required.  The proof: the concept of “practice” is no longer in most of our vocabularies.

Nope, now we just do.  Do it right, do it wrong—business (or nearly all our activities) are about showing up and giving it a shot.  Mind you, I get to grade my team and I rarely let a B result out the door, but in this case it’s easier to be the teacher than the student.

As the teacher I have no trouble forgetting about the competition (as Seth Godin advises), but I still have to do my own work.  I can certainly show up and move things forward (“minimum viable CEO”?) , but the things that will make the most impact feel more like homework.

The difference between a B and an A+ may be 100 customers vs. a million.  Showing up is just lip service.  Pitching 50 journalists, writing 100 customers, creating another video…no one will ask me to do it, and no one will grade me if I don’t.

But it’s not just about work and making a startup succeed.  It’s the willingness to do something that’s seriously tough, even if the light at the end of the tunnel is far away and you may damage your ego in the process.

To be clear, I’m not talking about taking on more—no, ambition creep can be toxic.  I’m talking about taking the things that you’re reasonable/passable/or even good at, and bringing them to the next level.  (For me, that’s writing/marketing, and Spanish.)

As I approach my thirtieth year, I want to still be able to step up to the plate with the difficult things.  Not in response to someone asking me to, but because it’s the only way I’ll be happy with myself and will make a substantial impact before the next decade is up.

Growing up may be a struggle, but it’s also a myth.  We’re never grown up, and it’s never too late to take things to the next level.

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4 Responses to “Struggling with struggling: from homework to real work to impact”


  1. Tim Koelkebeck

    Great post! One of my favorites.

  2. Jared Goralnick

    Thanks, Tim. Getting back into blogging it’s interesting to see how comments are used less often…but a lot of folks have emailed, and I definitely appreciate the comment.

  3. Busy Signals

    I think there’s something to be said for one aspect you allude to of our early, productively academic years: they were measured. It wasn’t just that we had to show up (or at least that there were legal, social, and parental consequences if we didn’t), it was also that if we showed up THERE WERE METRICS.

    Lately, I’m becoming conscious of how rarely I get graded on anything. Did the deliverable get done to spec and on time? If not, there might (often isn’t) a meeting to discuss what went wrong, but there’s no score, no school records to compete against, and no grades.

    In my earlier years, I think I studied so hard and got so much done because there was a measurement of what I was doing. And that’s something I’m trying to get back in my workflow now.

  4. Jared Goralnick

    Thanks, Max. I couldn’t agree with you more on the lack of validating signals as we get further and further from our initial academic life. Alas, at least we can do our best.

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