rebelling against low expectations

Hard Things Come In Small Packages


I think we’ve all spent a good deal of time pondering the Rebelution’s challenge to “Do Hard Things.” It’s a motto that any young person would be wise to adopt as his own. But as I’ve considered this concept, I’ve always had one significant question: what are these hard things?

The tasks that first come to mind for me have always been big things. Things like changing the world, making feature films, and rowing across large stretches of European ocean – great accomplishments that are inspiring and exciting. They’re examples that have been used by the Rebelution, and they’re great ones. A lot of times, however, I have caught myself thinking that Hard Things are limited to big things like these.

Take the illustration that the Rebelution originally used: the Vikings. These men would get in their boats and row for huge distances to far away places, have a battle, and then row back with their ships full of plunder. This initially looks like a very noble occupation, and it was. What we tend to forget, however, is that this huge accomplishment of rowing across the ocean was actually made up of thousands and thousands of small strokes with an oar.

The Vikings could have easily lost their enthusiasm with these little strokes, discounted their importance, and procrastinated. Needless to say, this would have slowed them down significantly. Instead, they were diligent to make each stroke, realizing that these small tasks were synonymous with their big goals.

Another example we can look at is that of makers of the film “League of Grateful Sons.” The movie was created by a single family, the Botkins, who did the filming, special effects, CGI, score, and other elements of the production. This is amazing in itself, but I particularly want to look at the example of their 16 year old son who wrote the music for the film.

From the Rebelution’s coverage of SAICFF:

Benjamin (16) played a major role in the composition of the score. Anna and Elizabeth have kindly remarked that their “little brother” has greater talent in the area of composition. Indeed, Benjamin was not only competent, but he was diligent. Every night at 2:00 A.M. he would get himself out of bed (Mr. Botkin says they never had to wake him up) and take a five-hour shift at the computer, arranging the score for the film and improving the sound quality of each note and instrument. At 7:00 A.M. he would be relieved by Anna or Elizabeth, who would take the day shifts in a long and hard cycle. Such sacrifice characterizes the Botkin’s approach to this film.

Hopefully this young man was somewhat of a morning person, but I don’t know anyone who could hear an alarm clock going off at that time of the night and feel like getting up 100% of the time. I imagine there were many times when, half asleep, he weighed the pain of getting up against the benefit of those extra hours composing.

Faced with that decision, most people would quickly decide to slam the alarm clock, go back to sleep, and remember to change it to 8:30 in the morning. Instead of giving in to what he must have felt like doing, however, he was able to look past the present: cheerfully investing in the future accomplishment of a finished film.

For a final example, let’s examine Hillsdale’s 18-year-old Mayor. Against all odds, precedent, and even sickness, he managed to become one of our country’s youngest civic leaders. Once again, however, we tend to forget how he accomplished this incredible hard thing: through many small hard things.

We forget the slice of time spent at a job, raising the $700 needed for campaign money. The knocking on an individual door, rallying the 670 votes he needed to win. The execution of each step, bringing the campaign to its final victory. Each was difficult and seemingly small, but without them, his bid for mayor would have remained where the bids of most other teens remain: as nothing more than a novel idea.

Unfortunately, the pull of an oar doesn’t tend to inspire us in the same way rowing across the ocean does. Getting up at 2:00am doesn’t have the same excitement as making a film. And being polite to our family just doesn’t have the same feeling as being a world leader. But this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Instead of having an attitude like this, we should find the same inspiration and excitement in the small things, keeping our eyes on our destination.

This is important because doing hard things that are large consist of doing many hard things that are small. Without doing these small things, we can’t achieve those huge goals. Look at this line from the parable of the talents in Luke 19:17, “And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.”

This isn’t simply a kingdom principle that Christ is talking about; it’s also a logistical principle. Yes, for our own good, God will hold back the cities until we can handle the little. But we should also realize that if we didn’t do the little, then we’d never accomplish the cities anyway.

Doing hard things means being diligent in the small. Getting across an ocean means many strokes of rowing. Scoring a film means many mornings of getting up early. Changing the world means changing our everyday actions. These are the hard things that we need to be doing if we really want to make a difference – the small, seemingly unexciting tasks that we so often procrastinate on, or ignore altogether.

So when you run into something small and unexciting, and you feel like procrastinating or ignoring it, don’t! Get up that extra hour earlier to work on that project. Reply to that email that could wait, but shouldn’t. Write that blog post that you’re simply not in the mood for, but need to do. Change the way you behave around your family for the better. Do those little things that don’t seem important, exciting, or enjoyable at first – but that can get you to your goals.

We all want to accomplish Hard Things, but we often forget to get excited about small ones. If we can do the small things, then we’ll be on our way to the large ones, and ready when we get to them.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Thank you Alex King!

    The post you have written goes along with what I have been thinking about lately and will challenge me to think even more. The main responsibility I have for my family is I do all the shopping and run errands for my Dad�s business. When I was younger I thought running a household consisted of cooking, cleaning, and teaching. What I failed to realize is a lot of time is used going to appointments, shopping, working for pay, research, counseling, repairing (fixing things) helping others and� Plus the other random things that come up that would keep one from being able to accomplish all that needs to be done such as weddings, building projects, or traveling. It is no wonder one would go crazy. So reading your post helped me to understand to be like the Vikings of old. Do those millions of little strokes to reach a goal. So if I do a little each day disciplining myself not to do to much or to little of one thing and to be discerning as to what truly is most important I will get everything done.

    Thanks again for your exhortation and encouragement 🙂

  • A million ‘Amen’s’ to that post, Alex! The little things are so much harder than the big things, it seems. Yet, feeling like it’s a waste of time to do those little things distorts the whole call to action and responsibility.

  • An excelent post and a very good reminder. We all need to be told the basics every now and then. I do have one comment, though.

    The article said we ought to find the same inspiration in the small things as in the large ones. On that, and that alone, I disagree. Logically, CAN taking out the trash be as inspiring as taking on the world? There may be a few times when even small things take on rosy colors (maybe right after a youth retreat or a really good sermon), but those times never last. I don’t know what your (the author’s, readers’, or the bloggers’) view on this topic is, but personally, I side with C.S. Lewis. In his Screwtape Letters, he says, though I can’t quote exactly, that these times of excitement and rose tinted glasses can’t last, because humans live in TIME. There are peaks and valleys in every Christian’s walk. We can’t expect to live on a high all the time.

    So, what’s my point? My point is (as Alex says later in the article) that, while we may not be inspired to get up in the morning to have a prayer time, while we may not feel like praying or changing little brother’s diaper, but the key is to DO IT ANYWAY. Screwtape says in one of his letters that “[The Devil’s] cause is never at greater risk than when a human looks out on a world that has gone cold and gray, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

    I apologise if I misunderstood you or was just too picky. I would welcome anyone’s ideas on this topic.

    A fellow soldier

  • I used to play an old computer game, back in 1998, on a computer that could barely handle it. In the game, the goal was to shoot aliens (go figure), one by one, until the time ran out.

    Now, shooting the big aliens got a lot more points than a little one, but if you didn’t shoot the little ones, the big aliens would never come out. Not until you had shot a certain amount of the little aliens accurately, consistently, and proficiently, could you move on to bigger, higher scoring aliens. The funny thing is, the little aliens never did go away, and if you stopped shooting them, the big aliens would stop coming. But eventually, the player gets so good at shooting the little aliens, it becomes second nature, and we tackle bigger, and bigger, and bigger aliens with ease.

    My basic point, was that game designers understand what Alex put so well in the post; All the joy and wonder in conquering the high-scoring aliens, comes from shooting the little, seemingly insignificant aliens in the beginning.

    If all we do is wait for the big aliens, they’ll never come. We have to take care of the little things first.

    Now, I’ll admit that it’s rather sad that I’m drawing life lessons out of a video game I played eight years ago.

    ::shakes head::

    Too bad, isn’t it? 😉

    Awesome post Alex, I look forward to reading more!

  • Fellow Soldier,

    Thanks for the comment. To clarify; I wasn’t saying that we’d always enjoy doing the small things, but that we should try to enjoy doing the small things by realizing their final destination. Of course, even if we can’t enjoy them, we should still do them – but if we remember why we’re doing them, then I think we can enjoy them a lot more often.

  • What an inspiring article! Amen! Thanks so much for your thoughts.

    It is hard sometimes to make yourself do the small things when you can’t see the big picture too well. I guess that’s where trust and obedience come in.

  • Alex,
    Thanks for the clarification, and I totally agree with you.

    Keep writing, and God bless!
    -A fellow soldier

  • Fantastic post, Alex K.! Like others have commented, this is something that I’ve been learning lately as well. I often have a hard time with realizing how being diligent in little ways adds up to accomplish something larger over time. The hardest battles are sometimes (often, in my case) the seemingly smallest ones. Luke 16:10 comes to mind:

    “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

    When we can do the hard “little” things, we will then be able better to tackle the hard “big” things. Attitude is always a choice – we may not be thrilled about a certain task, but we can choose to at least have a good attitude and not whine about it 🙂


  • We shouldn’t feel threatened by how much better everyone else is doing, ie, turning out major projects, getting attention, creating a superior blog, etc. If we can just focus on what we (ourselves) are called to do, and do it, we can be assured that it is just as important in the long run.

    We all have a purpose here on earth.

    Thanks for pointing this out, Alex.


  • Excellent thoughts Alex! Definitely something I need to work on myself, and I will be recommending this post to my whole family! You worked through the concepts very clearly, and have a great writing style! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    In Christ,

  • Alex, I thought your article was really great and just wanted to add a side point. I think the Lord also gives us the small things so that we will be able to hande/cope when the harder and larger things happen. My whole world drastically changed this last year, and as I look back over the last three years I see the hand of the Lord bringing the small changes into my life that enabled me to meet the bigs ones. I guess what I’m trying to say is being faithful in little things does enable us to be faithful in the large ones, but there is more to it than just that. I believe the Lord also gives them to us to that we can learn to rely on Him. When I find Him faithful as He helps me meet the challenges of daily life in a sin-filled world, He gives me the capacity to accept His grace when things get rough. As we see the beautiful and caring way He stoops to be intrically involved in our little problems, we allow Him to increase our measure of faith. To me, it’s an amazing example of His grace that He slowly lets us build up to those really big “hard things.” At least, so it seems to me.

  • Americans have lost the Protestant industriousness and have gotten spoiled. Life is made up of small things. Every self-made millionaire will agree. Jesus can re-inspire us if we will follow Him. Thanks Alex.

  • Umm, it’s been about a year since this article was posted, so I’m not sure anyone will see this comment, but I’m going to put it up anyway. This was an excellent article, well thought out and well written. However, I have a question about something in the intro paragraph. It says that “It’s the exact opposite of what our media-saturated culture – from public schools to church youthgroups – …” I’ve noticed it in other places on the blog too. You all seem to have some sort of bone to pick with youth groups. I’m wondering why. My church has a youth group, and it’s not especially “media-saturated.” It is lead by college students from Baptist Bible College, and they do a good job teaching us. It’s not perfect, I’ll admit, but I don’t see why you people are so against youth groups. If you happen to see this comment, could you explain why you dislike them so much?

  • Sorry to nit-pick here, but I’m going to nit pick! 😉

    [Vikings] “These men would get in their boats and row for huge distances to far away places, have a battle, and then row back with their ships full of plunder. This initially looks like a very noble occupation, and it was.”

    Noble occupation?! Pillaging non-combatants and propagating a thriving slave trade is a “noble occupation?”

    The very name “viking” is drawn from the Anglo-Frankish, from “víkingr”: one who set about to raid and pillage.

    The vikings may have been brave explorers, but much of their conflict was far from “noble.”

    There are better examples of “hard things” in history…

  • Very inspirational article! My Mom Loved you! She says that this article is saying
    EXACTLY what she has been thinking and saying ! Help me! She’s driving me crazy with all this wisdom!

  • Great article, I’ve been trying to think of big ways to make a difference but after reading this i realized that starting with littel things (such as washing dishes and things like that) work’s to.

  • I love going back and reading old articles. 🙂 Thank you so much for your encouragement, Alex. I needed to hear that. God bless!

  • Thank you for that, I needed to read it. I’ve been struggling with how I could “make a difference” as a homeschooler and show people Christ, and I had the mindset that I had to do big things. It has given me some ideas as to how I can do the small things all for God and it will prepare me for the big things He has planned.

  • Awesome, very encouraging, and insightful! I was just thinking about how the small things are so much harder to get excited about. I just finished participating in the national bible bee, and I’ve been trying to make what I learned count and stay faithful. It’s so much harder when you don’t have a contest you’re working toward. Those who are faithful in little will be faithful in much! Keep proclaiming the word! May God richly bless you! I really needed that!

    Let your life be as a pebble, rippling and rolling, changing all that come in contact with you.

  • Hey im sorta new to the whole rebulution thing and i was wondering how do i start cuz i live in the middle of nowhere so i dont know what to really do. If you could help that would be great

  • WOW! this is amazing!!! it remindes me that if I want to do something much bigger I MUST do the small things first! thanks Alex King! Great job! 🙂

  • Thanks for the post, Alex! It was a great motivator and reminder of the things we need to be working at every day.

  • Wonderful post, I often find myself dreaming of the big things I may accomplish and forgetting about the small hard things that get me there

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →