Hard To Do Does Not Equal Impossible – Ask Ukraine

by Stephen T. Messenger

March 29, 2022

This week I watched an Air Force Colonel retire after thirty-two years of military service. At the end of the ceremony, he left us with a few “deep thoughts” he learned over the years.  The one the resonated with me was:

Hard To Do ≠ Impossible

The reason it struck me is because I see so many people struggle to even start hard things. It’s much easier to maintain the status quo, resist change, and let someone else do the hard work. It’s also more comforting to avoid risk.

Yet leaders are placed in a position to tackle the hard problems. As another great Air Force colleague, also now a Colonel, used to say, “All the easy problems have been solved already. That’s why you’re here!”

When I think about the hard challenges I’ve faced in my work life, they usually originate from beginning a new job. A fresh perspective can identify issues that have been lingering in the organization for years, but no one wants to address them due to their difficulty.

More than likely, these challenges are not inherently new. Organizations and individuals across the globe have tackled, and defeated, the same mountain you’re probably facing.

It’s like looking at a puzzle right out of the box. Pieces are everywhere, the task is daunting, and no one knows where to begin.

The Jumbled Mess Makes Everything Look Impossible

Attitude Matters

Attitude is the one characteristic that makes the ‘hard to do’ possible. First, leaders need to have their own winning mindset. Second, they must provide purpose, direction, and motivation to change the mindsets of their people tackling the ‘hard to do.’

The situation in Ukraine is a perfect example of an impossible problem changed mentally into a hard one.

Russia should have rolled through their neighbor in a 72-hour lightning war and been standing on the steps of the Presidential Office Building in Kiev. Yet, more than one month after the invasion, Ukraine stands strong and is demonstrating the resolve to fight off the impossible.

President Volodymyr Zelensky gave his people hope in a dire situation. He changed the attitude of his citizens and the world from one of certain disaster to unrelenting resistance.

They looked at the hundreds of puzzle pieces, started building a defensive framework, grouped similar ideas together, and made the impossible seem possible.

Leaders Make the Impossible Make Slowly Make Sense

And it’s hard. The people of Ukraine are facing horrific suffering, bloodshed, and famine. They have evacuated over three million refugees from the country with millions more displaced. Every able-bodied man has been thrust into military service. They are bombed daily. People are dying. It’s hard!

But it’s not impossible.

They’ve assembled the puzzle enough that others see imagine it completed. President Zelensky has provided hope to his people and the world. Everyone now wants to help put the puzzle together (although not with boots on the ground). They want to believe in the impossible.

I’ve spoken with a lot of people lately about tackling some impossible challenges in their life. Some want to:

  • Start a major initiative at work which others mock as, “Many have tried, and all have failed.”
  • Earn a master’s degree—impossible while managing a full-time job, family, and life
  • Change their career and start something completely different in spite of impractical risks
  • Run a marathon, which is often considered an accomplishment beyond comprehension
  • Quit drinking—a task not tenable given an addictive hold on some people
  • Save a marriage that is beyond saving

All these tasks seem impossible. They initially look like a jumbled puzzle laying on the table that would take forever to complete. But others have put your puzzle together before.

Hard does not equal impossible.

Just yesterday I was practicing the new Army physical fitness test. One event requires throwing a ten-pound medicine ball over your head backwards. I’m consistently three meters short of the maximum score.

The Standing Power Throw at 9.3 of 12.3

My colleague stated that it was impossible to max, and my initial reaction was agreement. But I quickly regrouped and dug in.

“No wait. It’s not impossible. It’s just hard to do requiring a lot of dedicated practice and effort. I’ll get there… and so can you if you work at it!”

We need leaders who tackle the difficult challenges at work and home and encourage others to do the same. We need leaders to believe the hard things are possible. We need leaders that can inspire their teams and imprint a winning attitude on others. We need leaders to put the jumbled mess together that no one else wants to tackle.

Your organization and family need you to be the leader who can turn the impossible into possible. Start by changing your attitude towards your problems and encouraging others to try the hard things.

Lead well!

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2 thoughts on “Hard To Do Does Not Equal Impossible – Ask Ukraine

  1. Outstanding article! Love the tying of the “deep thought” to real life personal, interpersonal and international relations. Well, done, brother!


  2. Sir, I agree with Mr. Mateer! Your inclusion of examples throughout all aspects of life (and the images) simplified connecting this mindset to all of our actions. Thank you for the guidance and inspiration.


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