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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Rebelling Against Low Expectations

Five years ago, I read a book by two teenagers named Alex and Brett Harris. Maybe you read it too—it was called Do Hard Things. It challenged their peers to not settle into the lifestyle of a typical high school or college student, getting lost in selfies, video games, Facebook updates and narcissism. They gave credence to the idea that we become the best version of ourselves when we “do hard things.”

I love it.

“There are so many ways in which doing hard things as a teenager and in college prepared me for what I’m doing today,” Alex says, who is in his last year at Harvard Law School. He is an editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review and plans to clerk for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals next year in Colorado. The hard choices weren’t always big ones—opting to read rather than watch TV, to study rather than play video games, to join the debate team rather than the basketball team.

Image Source: The Rebelution

“Doing hard things in one season prepares you to step into the next with momentum and purpose,” he wisely points out. Their books and their challenge (the Rebelution movement) was launched by teens, for teens, and frankly, I believe that’s far more effective than a challenge from some Baby Boomer or Gen Xer. Everything these guys do is counter-cultural and counter intuitive in our current world of speed, comfort and convenience. ... and it’s really working for them.

“That’s because rebelling against low expectations and doing hard things is a mindset that grows with you,” his brother Brett affirms.

What This Means Today

Now here’s the clincher: Brett still works with their Rebelution movement but has spent most of the past two years caring full-time for his wife, Ana, who suffers from Lyme disease. A tick-borne illness, Lyme disease has serious implications if left untreated. Ana was probably bitten when she was 10 but wasn’t diagnosed until a few months after their marriage. Along with maintaining doctors’ appointments and medical options, Brett cooks for her, bathes her, carries her up the stairs, and, during her sickest months, helped her manage the panic attacks induced by the bacterial infection in her brain. Wow… talk about a whole new application for “doing hard things.” It now surrounds caring for his disabled wife—nothing glitzy or glamorous, nothing the media wants to cover or photograph. But listen to Brett’s rationale for how he handles his current hardship:

"If I’d spent my teen years running away from responsibly and difficulty, what would I do now? I could have zoned out, played video games and found ways to escape. I could have pushed the responsibility onto her parents instead of taking that on myself."

Our Take Away

As I mused about these two guys in their mid-twenties now, I was challenged in my own parenting, teaching, coaching and training of students. These guys “got it” when they were teenagers. Somehow, the adults in their life weren't consumed with “preventing” tough things from happening, but preparing the boys for life. Let me offer some principles we must buy into if we’re to do the same with our students:

  • As leaders of learning, we must communicate that everything they do now either prepares or ill-prepares them for the future. Each stage is a rehearsal for the next stage.
  • We must enable them to see the long-term ramifications of their actions.
  • We must teach them to check their motives for what they do. Is it all about getting noticed or famous… or is it about their development?
  • We must equip them to take on difficult challenges, knowing this acts as a workout for future challenges.

I love the advice Alex and Brett have for parents today: “We can’t shield our kids from hardship and then hope to release them into a suffering-free existence in adulthood. Loving your children means preparing them for hardship by allowing them to engage with the world, deal with the consequences of their actions and work through inevitable disappointments and failures.”

This is a philosophy that many books on discipline mention. It is also a great way to enter 2015, don’t you think?


Find out how adults can equip young people to lead us into the future in our best-selling book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future.


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Generation iY helps adults:

  • Guide unprepared adolescents and at-risk kids to productive adulthood
  • Correct crippling parenting styles
  • Repair damage from (unintentional) lies we’ve told kids
  • Guide young people toward real success instead of superficial “self-esteem”
  • Adopt education strategies that engage (instead of bore) an “I” generation
  • Employ their strengths and work with their weaknesses on the job


  1. Tim on January 21, 2015 at 11:13 am

    “…to join the debate team rather than the basketball team.”

    Seriously? They’re claiming that the debate team is “harder” than playing sports? As a Division I athlete, I can safely claim that sports are easily the hardest aspect of my life, and the determination and daily effort I put into my sport has helped me become the successful student I am today. Yes, I am also a very highly successful engineering student, and I prioritize this over my athletics. Studying and being productive on a daily basis is easy compared to the work I have to put into my sport in order to be successful.

    I also believe there’s an unnecessary amount of reprimand towards video games. Yes, it’s possible to spend too much time with them, but the same thing can be said for almost any activity. I accredit many good puzzle and problem-solving skills to video games, not to mention better hand-eye coordination and overall faster comprehension and perception. To stay on the topic of “hard” things, video games are also great at providing a mental and even physical challenge for those who want it.

    This article is generalized to the point of being insulting; I can’t even imagine trying to read the book. You don’t have to sacrifice what you enjoy to be successful.

  2. Tom B. on January 21, 2015 at 11:13 am

    Being a junior high basketball coach, I wasn’t thrilled with the reference to the debate team being a “harder” choice than the basketball team! Nevertheless, as a coach (who, in my “real” job is a pastor), I deal with too many parents who need to learn the lessons

  3. Tom B. on January 21, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Sorry! The previous post wasn’t finished! As I was saying, I see too many parents who need to learn the lessons posted in the “our take away” session. Just recently, I had a parent who taught his son two terrible lessons: 1) Quit if things aren’t going your way; and 2) Make sure you blame someone else for your problems.

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Rebelling Against Low Expectations