rebelling against low expectations

Becoming Men: Feats of our Forefathers


We’re all familiar with names like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and John Hancock. These men, along with others, were our forefathers and the founders of our nation. They signed the Declaration of Independence and wrote the Constitution. They won the Revolutionary War.

Not only that, but their incredible accomplishments weren’t limited to their adult lives. John Hancock entered Harvard University when he was 13 years old. Samuel Adams completed his master’s degree before he turned 21. Thomas Jefferson frequently studied 15 hours a day during his time at the College of William and Mary.

Of course, at this point it’s easy for all of us normal people to place these guys in the “superhuman” or “so-smart-it’s-disgusting” category and move on. However, there’s a danger in thinking that God simply blessed America with a generation chock-full of patriotic super-nerds just in time to write the Constitution.

You see, once we label people as a “geniuses” we usually cease to feel the need to learn from them or to be challenged by their example. The truth is that our forefathers weren’t nerds and their early college entrances were not unusual for their time.

Rather, what stood these young men apart from their peers was (1) a seemingly corporate sense that age could not keep them from accomplishing great things, and (2) an extraordinary drive that we like to call the “do hard things” mentality.

As we explore the different ways these traits played out in the early years of some of our most famous forefathers, our hope is that we will all gain a greater vision of our own God-given potential and calling.

George Washington: “He Didn’t Mark Time”

We all know George Washington as the first President of the United States, the Commander of the Revolutionary Army and the Father of our Country. These are impressive titles and the jobs that went with them couldn’t be more difficult.

But a quick glance at Washington’s teenage and young adult years indicates that these weren’t his first big titles or even his first weighty responsibilities. Rather, what comes through is a man who, from his childhood, chose to do hard things, and then did those things to the best of his ability.

According to the George Washington Bicentennial Committee (WBC), Washington was born into a “middling rank” family, lost his father when he was 11, and was never considered particularly bright or educated by his peers. Nevertheless, he developed a “passion for education [that] caused him to concentrate on hard study” and he mastered geometry, trigonometry, and surveying by the time he was 16 years old.

At the age of 17, Washington received his first big job when Lord Thomas Fairfax, one of the largest landowners in Virginia (we’re talking 5.3 million acres here), named him official surveyor for Culpepper County, Virginia.

At the time surveyors were some of the highest paid workers in the country, second only to trial lawyers. This means that Washington, at age 17, was earning today’s equivalent of over $100,000 a year.

Don’t get this wrong. Washington wasn’t an ornament who sat in an office while adult men did the real work. His journals reflect the rigor of frontier life and the WBC describes the appointment as “the fitting of a man’s tasks to the square young shoulder of a boy without cutting those tasks to a boy’s measure.”

Washington was a man at 17 years old.

Three years later Washington received his next big responsibility when the governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, appointed him district adjutant of the militia, with the rank of major.

Then, when word came that the French were encroaching on Ohio territory, Governor Dinwiddie chose young Major Washington to lead a mid-winter expedition to assess French military strength and intentions, and to warn the French to leave.

We don’t know about you, but to us traveling hundreds of miles in the middle of winter to tell a large garrison of French soldiers to pack up and leave doesn’t sound very easy or appealing. That’s because it wasn’t.

Nevertheless, 21-year-old Washington not only successfully carried out this mission, but also continued to serve as a primary negotiator and principle actor throughout the French and Indian War.

By age 22 he had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and by age 23 he was Commander in Chief of the entire Virginia Militia. He’d been shaving for less than a decade, but no one seemed to notice, and we’re sure he never mentioned it.

Perhaps the WBC put it best when they wrote, “[Washington] did not mark time in any of the important positions of his life…. Just as [he] stepped into a man-sized job as a surveyor, so when he accepted Governor Dinwiddie’s mission to Ohio he stepped not only into a man-sized task but into a path which led, as we now are able to trace it, directly to the American independence, of which he was the chosen instrument.”

As The Twig Is Bent, So Grows The Tree

Even if we’d never read a history book and were forced to go solely off of what we now know about the first 23 years of his life, we’d be fools not to predict that George Washington would grow up to be somebody. In fact, we might even insist that he’d become President someday — even bet on it.

That’s because, inside, we all know that young adulthood is not some mystical time period that has no effect on the rest of our lives. These years are the profound shapers of our lives. Here we set our direction, develop habits, and build momentum. As an old saying goes, “As a twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

This understanding is what our founding fathers had in common. It was the secret to their greatness. They put into practice the principle of Lamentations 3:27, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”

As young adults they adopted the determination and high ideals that went on to characterize their entire lives. Their history-making adult years were directly connected to their focused years as young adults.

It is no coincidence that the same Samuel Adams who organized the Boston Tea Party at age 51 wrote his master’s thesis in defense of the people’s liberties at age 21.

It is no coincidence that David Farragut, who became the U.S. Navy’s first Admiral at age 65, was given command of his first ship at age 12.

It is no coincidence that Alexander Hamilton, who became our nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury at age 34, was a clerk in a counting house at age 13.

Likewise, it is no coincidence that, as the primary author of the Federalist Papers at age 32, Hamilton had already been publishing political pamphlets since he was 19.

And, of course, it is no surprise that the same George Washington who became the Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Army at age 43, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Virginia Militia 20 years earlier.

A Revolution Worth Fighting

Of course, it’s one thing to understand this. It’s a whole different thing to apply it to our own lives. But if our desire is to impact this world for Christ, we have to.

We can learn a lot from our forefathers. They lived in a time very different from our own, but their example couldn’t be more relevant. In a world that is looking to our generation for direction and leadership and finding a bunch of kidults, the commitment to do hard things as young adults is a much-needed revolution.

Don’t get us wrong. Our generation won’t be shooting guns or throwing tea in the ocean. Our enemy today is not King George. Rather we do battle with a culture that looks down on true adulthood and celebrates immaturity and irresponsibility.

In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul writes, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” As followers of Christ, we are called to a higher standard.

We need to be honest with ourselves. Is how we’re spending our time now preparing us for what we want to become? Are we doing hard things now that will equip us for greater things God may have for us in the future? These are the fundamental questions for this season of our lives.

Historian Peter Henriques, author of Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington, put it this way: “Washington became the man he strove to be.”

Henriques’ statement is not only true of Washington and the rest our forefathers, but it’s also true about us. We will become the men and women we strive to be.

Like our forefathers, this generation faces a crisis and an opportunity. A crisis, in the sense that we can no longer afford to avoid responsibility, and an opportunity, in the sense that we can choose today to buckle down and “do hard things” for the glory of God. The future of our nation and our world depends on it.

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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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  • This is a very challenging post. I often have a hard time taking on responsibility. It is so easy to look at the amazing accomplishments of others and simply file them under the genius category instead of trying to learn from them. When reading about all our forefathers did, I can’t help but think that if that level of commitment was normal back then, America’s youth have fallen far, and based on the laziness I see at my public highschool, we won’t be getting up any time in the near future. Thank you for this call to accept the “opportunity” of hard work and avoid the “crisis.” Your articles are exactly the kind of thing we need to be hearing.

  • There’s a great book by Bob Buford called Half Time; Changing Your Game Plan From Success to Significance. It speaks to men (and women) who have succeeded in a career and are either retired or mostly independently wealthy. The author inspires men in these phases in their lives to use their gifts and tallents and their new-found spare time to do something “significant.” Thus “From Success to Signficance.” I found myself in that position a few years ago and my pastor gave me that book.

    But there’s a problem with this perspective. Why wait till “Half Time” (in other words: mid-life). Our nation has veered to far to the “left” and nothing seems to be able to turn the ship around. “The hearts of the wise incline to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left (Ecclesiastes 10:2) The Christian mid-lifers can’t get it done. The believing youth of today really do need to change the course of our nation.

    1 Timothy 4:12 truely is a call to today’s youth. I believe that call is the hope of our future as a nation.

    Do Hard Things!

  • It is no coincidence that John Hancock, who was the richest man in the colonies, was a smuggler during every single war with Britian.
    One thing that really bugs me is that history books portray every person in one of two ways. The book either makes the person out to be a perfect human being or as the worse person who ever lived…eg John Quincy Adams is portrayed in my Jr. U.S. History book as a pimp. Was Adams like that at all?

  • The word crisis was originally a medical term- it was the point when a patient was going to get better or die.

    We do face a crisis right now in our world. Are we going to let it plummet into it’s pride of immaturity and irresponsibility? or do we take on the challenge of being servants of Christ doing hard things for him as we live, pray and study God’s word. The result being that through God’s grace people are saved and realise their responsiblities- even young people like us!

    May we always pray that God would turn the world upside down that there would be positive effects for lost sinners through his great love.

    Thank you for this post- very challenging to a time-wasting sinner!

  • It is very true that these historical figures in american history deserve our admiration for their accomplishments. The biblical principal portrayed through their lives is true, “[as a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23:7. What we should remember most of all is that Christ is our example, not men. That means following Christ in all of His ways and not what our traditions of Him have taught us.

  • theres a great mith about washington, you point him out that he was so succesfull but you say it hinting that he went against his culture – FAR FROM IT – you would never have even heard his name spoken today if it wasn’t for the fact that he was such a devout studier of culture and practiced daily to fit in as best he could. washington is an example on how to succede by fitting into culture – he was the movie star of his time and its a good thing he wasn’t the only man writing the constition or we would have a monarchy

    these men were celebrities, well cultured yes, but they were just a dumb and dog headed at current celebrities, only their collective hatred of the drown crown and Gods grace held this country together and allowed those men to write the constitution. might i also point out it took them 13 years of arguing and they still screwd up major points of the constitution such as slavery, gun and weaponry ownership, and taxes

    don’t put these men on a pedestal, you can do far better

  • Should women strive for this category, or is it just for men?

    Never mind. I think I know what Christianity says on that point.

  • Hi!! guys This post is a challenge to all the guys on here, I know one thing is for sure it left an impression on me.

    Great message!! God Bless.

  • I think the advice on moral living you are giving out to young people is right on target. You encourage both men and women to live strong, brave, and courageous lives for Christ. The leadership of our founding fathers in large part can be attributed to the strong Christian convictions of the mothers of America. Its too bad our young people are not being taught the true meaning of strength. It comes from character. Unfortunately, as the character of America\’s education, religious, and political leaders further deteriorates – our people lose their moral compass. Its time for brave men and women to stand their ground. There is a war against our people and it has begun. Put on the whole armor of God – men and women – because the destruction that faces our nation is an equal opportunity crisis. Its against the guys and the ladies. So take your place for Christ and never show tolerance toward the hatred of our Lord and Savior lest we find ourselves standing with the world and not with Jesus.

  • In some ways i think it might be easier if our enemy were King George and his army– because the enemy would be recognized as a foreign opponent of which we must be rid…but now our “enemy” (the mindset of this culture) lives among us and is accepted and embraced by those around us, and is in our faces every day, … it is in the media, movies, neighbors and friends, at schools, and even at our churches. It feels like we’re fighting a Civil War… against ourselves, all those around us, and against an entire culture.

    ~Elisabeth Gruber

  • I think that since the enemy is in our midst it is harder, like elisabeth said. But its worse than a civil war. its like a civil war where we are tempted to give up. God be with you all.

  • This is great. This is just a great example of what we are to become. This generation is this country’s future. No, the world’s future. Someone posting here could be the president of 2024. Someone else could be a great preacher that helps send the great news of Jesus Christ our Savior.

  • Wow! Talk about a challenging and rather guilt-inducing article… I mean that in a good way. That woke me up a little bit there… I think I’m gonna try to shave off some of the less important things I’ve been doing lately and focus more on “hard stuff” that’s worth doing. Thanks for the wake-up call!!

  • That was another great article, friend. It’s so interesting to read history and to learn from the examples of those who have gone before us. I’ve never read that about George Washington. I really pray that the Lord will indeed help to become the woman that I strive to be! I love the verse, “Do everything HEARTILY as unto the Lord and not to men”. You can really see that passion in the lives of these men. God bless you. Your sister in Christ, Kedesh

  • Wow! a friend sent me a link of your site and so far so great.You guys have a great ministry here.I am 23 and an African living in Africa.Uganda in particular.The American culture has seeped through to us through the media and is having a terrible effect on the youth.Uganda has the youngest population in the world. 50% of the population are 15 and below.I think your sort of ministry would do alot to help the situation here.

  • It is amazing what other people have done. I never new that David Farragut was such a hero. There are countless examples of young people that do hard things like Alex and Brett. When I read the part where they worked for the Alabama Supreme Court, it blew me away! It’s amazing how low expectations others, and even myself, have for young people.

  • My dad is a pastor in Oklahoma and has done a sermon directly related to the subject of what a man is and is called to be, it is literally shocking how most middle aged “men” have a misconstrued view of what god has called them to be. Can someone tell me their take on manhood, I would greatly like to know if this is a problem everywhere or just where I live.

  • Those two questions really hit home for me:

    Is how we’re spending our time now preparing us for what we want to become? Are we doing hard things now that will equip us for greater things God may have for us in the future?

    My dad got me your book Do Hard Things which I just read this morning and am now reading through your website.

    Thank you for your effort, you may have just saved my life.

  • I remember reading about how John Quincy Adams was an ambassador to Russia when he was only 13 years old.

    Very inspiring, and an example of how we can rise to do more than what is expected.

  • Phew! I just want Alex and Brett to know that you guys give us so much hope. It’s really difficult for me to live up to God’s standards when so often I’m the only one who’s trying to do that and everyone around me, including my Christian friends, are conforming to the ways of the world and just settling for mediocre. Everytime I think to myself that “God’s standards are just too high and I’m tired of trying to do something that’s practically impossible” I remember Alex and Brett Harris and the examples and challenges you have set for us. YOU GUYS are doing exactly what Paul said to do – be examples in speech, conduct, love faith and purity. Thank you so much!

  • Before I read Do Hard Things, I’ve always been pretty much a lazy, unambitious person. My only thought was to get my school done, some of my chores done, and get the least amount of school done that pleases my parents. I groaned a the thought of having to just load the dishwasher. While I was reading the book, I noticed that Alex and Brett were right, small hard things were sometimes harder than the big things. I mean, I’d rather be helping move out my great-grand parents, which were doing tomorrow, than wash the dishes. After a while, I noticed that my Dad didn’t think I could do any major heavy lifting, which I’ve done twice now, and soon to be three. He thought the way that you guys said almost everyone adult thought.

    Me and my family have been were separated from my Dad for three years,(not because of divorce, but because he got a job offer when we REALLY needed it. Only down side was that we were 200 miles away.) only seeing him every other weekend, which at the time didn’t seem to bad. Until my Dad didn’t make it to my 13th birthday. That day I received Do Hard Things from my parents. I started to read it, slowly at first, since we had decided to move in the in the middle of the economy sinking, it was slow, hence-forth, 3 year waiting period. (It’s like chucked life at me and said, “Pop quiz”) with Dad gone I was the man of the house. So I had no time to read that book. Sometime after we moved, (I’m still the same old person I was.) we were getting another fridge, because our family was so big. I heard Dad talking with my Do-dad aka my grandfather, about the plans about moving the fridge, I heard him say, “ya, maybe I’ll get Scot to help me,” (Scot is my best-friend’s older brother) Then he saw me walk by and then rather fast said, “or maybe I’ll get Ben to help me ’cause he’s taller than me now.” (I’m 5’9 he’s 5’7, I’m so happy 🙂 ) I think the only reason I helped with the fridge is because I herd my Dad. After that, I found an book sitting on my desk collecting dust. It was called Do Hard Things. I picked it up and read it.

    That book has changed my life, nothing is hard any more, my grades are picking up, there’s nothing that I usually do around the house that’s hard anymore, I just say ok to my self and that’s that. I’m striving to do more hard things, the top 5 on my list are,
    1. Join a homeschool football team (seeing as how I’m bigger than my Dad)
    2. Preach a sermon
    3. Start a band
    4. Write a book
    5. Become a more social and active person.

    Once again, thank you Alex and Brett, your book changed my life for the better. 🙂

  • This is great! In my youth group, me and a few of my friends are going to be talking, about how there is getting to be a lack of real MEN, in our world, and in todays culture, its women taking over in homes, relationships, and churches. And also, how women are failing to submit, and also failing to encourage men, and how many people (men & women) aren’t taking their rightful places that God has designed. So I was just wondering if anyone has any good points on this that we could say. (or even a tactful way to say something like this, so as to not offend anyone!) I’d love to hear some thoughts on this!

  • I have been reading your book, and there alot of these sort of examples in there, and dont get me wrong, they are awesome, but they are all of people who were not so much thrust into the situations, but were given big situations to tackle.

    But what if we dont get offered the big situations to tackle, and like the examples that you shared in your book about doing the “Big Hard Things”? There is a part of me that wants to go looking for things in the paper nd stuff like that, which will big a “hard” thing for me to do, But should I be looking for them, or should I wait for the leading of God on something (as I am a firm believer that God does lead us).

    Should I almost go “Hard Thing Hunting?”, or should I remain open to prospects as they come along, and then when something does show it’s head, jump into it headlong with all I have?

  • This is such a challenge. It is actually Hard to do hard things, and who wants to add extra work to their already full-enough days? I myself am able to do what other people consider Amazing things without much effort. Sometime’s I feel like that should be enough, since it’s more than other people can do, and apparently Amazing. However, it is articles like these that help me to realize that God wants me to do what is amazing for Me, not for everyone else.
    Every revelution starts within one person, then within a family, then a group of friends, then the community before it can spread across the nation and across the world. I am encouraged to work on the Rebelution withing myself and my family, while planning on over-flowing to those around me in the near future. Article’s like these are what I need to be reading, thanks.

  • I have tried my whole life not to let people look down on me because I am young. My parents have always encouraged me to do things that most kids my age wouldn’t do. I appreciate your blog so much! It’s encouraging to know that there are other young men and women out there like myself! God will do great things! But we have to be willing to give up ourselves in order to accomplish HIS work, and to push aside these low expectations that our society has for teens!! Keep up the good work!

  • I have tried my whole life not to give people a reason to look down on me because of my age. My parents have always encouraged me and my brothers to live out our faith and to not become like everyone else. It’s encouraging to know that there are other young men and women out there like myself! Keep up the awesome blog! You have challenged so many young people! God will do great things through our generation, as soon as we are willing to give up ourselves and live for HIM!

  • Our history books are fraught with mistakes and mistaken ideas about our ancestors and founders. One thing that is undeniable, and I think is the point of this blog, is that they lived and did hard things. They never sat on their laurels or duffs, whether they traded slaves or commanded an army or smuggled liquor, or ran a farm to feed the family…. they worked hard and did tremendous things during a time when most people literally were struggling to stay alive day to day.

    We need to live our lives, in our well fed, mostly comfortable lives, to do hard things for Christ.

  • I hear all the time from people that it was a mistake when the Constitutional amendment lowered the age of adulthood to 18. Your post is even more remarkable in the context that “adulthood” in the 1700s and early 1800s didn’t legally come until 21 – by which age most of our forefathers had already made remarkable achievements. I think teen agers are capable of astounding things, if they simply decide to devote their energies and passions to things that matter in God’s Kingdom. But I also think mediocrity is a trap that many middle-aged folks fall for – they believe that responsibilities of job, bills, kids, and declining health shackle them to hum drum ordinary lives. But it is a choice to settle for the ordinary, rather than take risks. Brett and Alex took a risk in interning for the Alabama Supreme Court – what if they had failed? It could have given teens a black eye, been an embarrassment for the Gospel. But often it is better to try and fail, and try again, than never to try at all. So I think the challenge of the Rebolution is not just for teens, but for entire families. Working together, you can do so much more than you can alone. I’m reminded of a couple of kids I read about – one who wanted to raise money for creating clean water in villages in Africa – she was killed in an auto accident at very young age, before she reached her goal – but with the support of her family, even after her death, a sum many times in excess of her goal was raised, and is making a huge difference in the lives of many children half a world away. Another kid read about homeless people, and insisted that her mom and dad take her downtown so she could give her pillow and blankets to someone homeless – because of the support of her mom and dad, a permanent mission to share Christ’s love came out of it. ( I’m 57 years old).

  • Great article. I would recommend the book “Wild at Heart” by John Eldridge for any man or woman (young or old) who likes what this article has to say. The Bible does not call on men to be passive, mild-tempered, or even nice. The Bible calls on men to be passionate, fierce, loyal warriors for Christ (Ephesians 6). The article touches on that as well.

  • Good story, you might wnt to check out A book by John Eldrifge called: The Way of the Wild Heart (also reprinted under the title ‘Fathered by God” which has great insights on the masculine journey.

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 →