Embrace hard work!

Chris Lema

A robbery at Ft Knox

Late one night a guy gets into one of the vaults of Fort Knox and he grabs as much gold coins as he can, throws it into a huge bag. No one really knows how much he stole, but as he’s walking out there’s a guard, and the guard catches him basically holding the bag. So what he says is, “How about I give you half the money that’s in here and I give you a $2,000 bonus?” So they make the deal and he takes off.

But the guard, who’s thrilled at his luck, he’s walking out and he gets stopped by a second guard, and it’s the same bribe, half the money plus a $2000 bonus thrown in. The second guard is like, “Great.” But, as he’s getting ready to go out the door, he gets stopped by a third guard and it’s the same dynamic, half of that money plus 2000 thrown in.

Now the original burglar, when he finally gets out of Fort Knox, he has mixed emotions. I mean he did leave with more than he came in with. I mean 9,000 more, and he’s free, but he thought of all the money he left behind and he was pretty sad. Of course by now you know enough to figure out how much he had taken in the first place.

The math problem that I had as a child, in sixth or seventh grade, was just like that, except it had to do with bananas and three men on an island and taking naps and dividing it by three and throwing stuff off the island. But it was equivalent mathematically to this problem where you didn’t know how many bananas they started with, and there was this constant processing of figuring out what happened and how the pile was diminishing. The question at the end was how many bananas did you start with? Much like how many gold coins did you start with when the robber took money from Fort Knox?

It was an extra credit puzzle.

Just do it if you have some time. Yet, that puzzle changed my life, because I took that puzzle to my dad after dinner and we sat down and he decided that he would teach me algebra on that night.

I thought I already knew what I needed to know

Now here’s the thing, I thought I knew algebra, because when you study in school and you’re going through the stuff, it’s really simple – they tell you, “You move this over to the other side of the equal sign and you just make it negative. You move this over here.”

So I had all the mechanics down. But I didn’t really understand how it worked.

I understood what to do. I didn’t understand why you would do it.

That made him very frustrated.

My dad pushed me to do the hard work

So he started teaching me math; he started writing down equations and he started asking me to write down questions. Of course we only used X and sometimes Y. He was using R and S and T and he was doing T sub one and T sub two. I didn’t understand what he was doing and we sat there from about eight at night until after midnight.

We finally got a number. I mean I was in tears. I was exhausted. And he was proud. He taught his son algebra that night.

I didn’t think he had, only to discover years later that I really learned most of math in that single night.

But what really got me was that when we were all set and done he said, “Let’s check our work.” I said, “Okay.”

Now you’ve got to remember this is … I was maybe 11 or 12. That was in 1980, 81, 82, something like that.

We were one of the few folks that had a personal computer in the house. My dad turned around and walked to the computer and he turned it on and went and wrote a small little batch of program. He wrote in Basic at the time.

He wrote a little set of formulas to output and write to screen starting from some ridiculous number building up or building down to get at these equations, to figure out what the right answer was.

What would happen is if you did it right it would output the first number and the last number of what you initially started with in terms of bands and the last number. The trick was you’d have to find it where both were whole numbers, where they were integers.

So he ran the program and he hit print, so it just started spitting out stuff. When it was all done it stopped printing and he turned it off and he looked at it and he found the one that had whole numbers and he’s like, “Oh look, it matches our answer.”

Mind you he did that, both writing the code and printing it and looking over, he finished that in about three minutes.

I remember feeling like, “If you could’ve solved this problem in three minutes instead of three or four hours, why didn’t you?”

This was extra credit. We didn’t have to do this, and we definitely didn’t have to spend four hours fighting.

But the point for him was that I learned, and the point for him was that I knew why I would do what I did, not just how to do it, or what to do.

Why are you telling me this story?

At this point you’re like, “What does this have to do with anything? Why am I telling you this story?”

I find that more often than not a lot of us learn what to do. We learn how to move things, or how to type things, or code thing, or do whatever it is we do. We learn the mechanics of it without often understanding the background for it, without understanding the why.

Maybe you’re writing code and so you copy someone else’s code, but you don’t understand what it’s doing, or you don’t understand why.

You want shortcuts. We all ask for shortcuts. I mean you can look at all the posts in the world and all the questions and everybody is doing the same thing, we’re all asking for shortcuts.

I want to submit to you that the real answer is to not take shortcuts.

The real answer is to spend a deep amount of time stepping into something to learn, because when you learn it, when you truly understand it, it can change the trajectory of your life.

In that single night, not only did I learn math, I learned the value of computers to solve business questions. I learned that when you combine a computer with thinking and the ways to break down a problem that you can actually have it do a lot of work for you.

I mean I learned so much in that single night, and it did, it made me much more inclined towards business problems, much more inclined towards computing, much more inclined towards technology, in a single night, all because we’d gone deep.

Sometimes the shortcuts aren’t helpful

More often than not, people want to know, what’s the secret, what’s the shortcut, how can I bypass all the work?

The answer, my take is, you’re asking the wrong question.

You shouldn’t be asking, how can I bypass all the work?

What’s the shortcut?

You ought to be asking, what’s the long way?

What should I do with deep effort?

What should I do with serious intent that allows me to learn the most and has the maximum impact on the trajectory of my life?

What can I invest in, in such a way that when I come out of it, on the other end of it, no matter how much I cry, no matter how hard it was, no matter how rough and struggle I felt, that on the end of it, it will have a significant impact on everything I do going forward?

That is a question you ought to ask your peers, your mentors, your family.

  • But not, what’s the quickest way?
  • What’s the shortcut?
  • How can I bypass and skip everything else?

Sometimes it’s worth taking the long and hard road so that you understand something deeply.

Because then, when you understand it deeply you have a way to provide value to others, because you’re not just having a cursory amount of knowledge on a lot of topics. You actually go deep in some areas.

I’ve discovered over the last 20 years professionally that I am worth more because of the struggles that I fought than I am for all the little things where I had quick wins.

So embrace the pain. Embrace hard work!

Powered by the Rainmaker Platform

The Rainmaker Platform by Copyblogger Media is the complete website solution for building your own online marketing and sales platform. In short, it makes the technology part of running an online business simple so that online marketers and business owners can focus on building audiences and growing businesses.

Start your free 14-day trial

Join more than 5,000 others

My posts. Your inbox. Beautiful.


  1. Thanks for general words of encouragement Chris, it’s hard to sometimes break away and take look at the bigger picture and the lessons learned. I absolutely agree, you learn much more when the problem seems bigger and it forces you to really dive deep to understand it and find the right solution.

  2. Daniel and I are about to embrace the hard work of learning Spanish. Not learning quick short cuts from a phrase book, but being able to have full conversation. This work will definitely have a significant impact on everything we do moving forward, but only if we do the hard work. Thank you for the encouragement, Chris!

  3. Amen to this! Great post, Chris. A lot of time, the shortcuts turn out to not shortcuts, in the long-run.

  4. MmmMm! Love me some hard work. 😀 Perhaps it’s the maven in me that digs deep on things and really roll up my sleeves when others may shy away. :) Great post as usual Chris! 😀

  5. Thank you Chris! I needed to hear this word!
    For you personally I feel that God is pouring more favor and blessing over your life this year!
    Keep up the good work!

  6. Great article, Chris. It’s shortcuts that get small businesses in so much strife on the web (SEO, themes, hosting etc.). Sonia Simone @Copyblogger says it really well: “Shortcuts take longer.”

  7. I get a lot more than practical advice here, fatherly guidance! Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


I regularly schedule calls to answer your questions using
a service where you only pay per minute.

call me
  • People don’t fully grasp how strategic Chris is. I love that about him and count on it all the time.

    Karim Marucchi
  • Chris often breaks paradigms and has me rethinking the way I approach my business.

    Jeff Zinn
  • Chris always gives me something to think about – a new lens through which to examine my business.

    Lucy Beer
  • Chris’s advice has helped me to make better decisions about my business, and manage my clients better.

    Natalie MacLees
  • Chris has been a source of wisdom and insight in business and product strategy, startups, entrepreneurship, and more.

    Austin Gunter
  • Chris is one of those rare people who can take a difficult subject and make it easy to learn and remember.

    Dave Jesch
  • Chris has a heart of gold and is willing to reach out and help. He has helped me in several ways both in WordPress coding and consulting with me on my business. He has been a blessing in my life and look forward to a long friendship with him.

    Gregg Franklin
  • Chris Lema always drops knowledge bombs that makes me think about how I can evolve my WordPress-powered business. Even more valuable is that he does it in a way that makes drastic change seem achievable.

    Chris Ford
  • Whether it's product strategy or a question about which plugin to use, I know Chris will get me an answer faster than anyone else.

    Steve Zehngut
  • Chris is a great mentor, instructor and friend. He fills all these roles with a down to earth style and ease that actually encourages you to believe that success is within your grasp.

    Alex Vasquez