The hard way is the easy way

Sometimes the hard way to do something is the easy way.

I am a bad guitar player. But I’m also a very happy one. A friend told me long ago it was good to have something you suck at, but enjoy anyway. It’s a healthy reminder that fun doesn’t require skill.

I play guitar nearly every day, usually as a brief escape from writing. When I get stuck with a writing project I pick up the guitar and sing and play for a few minutes. It always feels good. Soon I feel inspired again to get back to work. But my skill level has remained in exactly the same place for years. I’m an advanced beginner, maybe.

Recently I learned how to play a proper F chord. I’d been doing a hacky version of an F chord for years, mainly because to do it right required more practice than I was willing to do.

I finally just decided I was fed up playing it the hacky way. I tried the hard way a week ago.

It turned out that trying to play it the hard way was actually much easier than the hacky way. It did take more attempts to learn play it the right way, but when I got it working, it felt and sounded much better than the hacky way. Plus playing it the right way makes it easier to learn other chords that use the same shape. Whereas the hacky way has no reuse at all. It’s just a hack.

The hard way required maybe 35% more upfront effort, but for its payoff it was easier to learn than the hacky way, which never really worked well.

Sometimes the hard way to do something is the easy way.

6 Responses to “The hard way is the easy way”

  1. GTRyanA

    Rather than calling it the “hard way”, you should be calling it the “right way”. In general, finding a hack way to do something is harder than just doing it the right way. In my experience, the reason people use hacks is not based on effort, but on up-front expense. The expense could be money or effort or whatever else they don’t want to put down up front.

    Your point is good, but I believe your term is off.

    1. Scott Berkun

      It’s hard to call anything ‘right’ without knowing what the goal is. Sometimes the quick and dirty solution is the right one, if it’s an emergency, or something unimportant than won’t get used again.

  2. David Janke

    The hard part is figuring out which efforts will pay off in the long run.

    John Cook recently posted something in the same vein (but more focused on programming), here:

    He refers to these as “bicycle skills”, as in:

    “Suppose you own a bicycle but haven’t learned to ride it…. It takes less time to just walk to the store than to learn to ride the bicycle and ride to the store. If you always do what is fastest that day, you’ll walk every day…. [Learning to ride a bicycle] doesn’t take too long to learn, quickly repays time invested…”

  3. Serge Zenin

    It’s great that you still find some time to practice the guitar! I noticed this post specifically because I also use the guitar to “distract” myself from whatever I’m writing, especially during a moment of difficulty. I also completely suck at playing, but doing it consistently (30 minutes a day) has helped me become progressively better over the last year. Fixing mistakes and deciding on doing things “the hard way” is a natural progression of any activity you decide to take up. Your description about learning to properly play the F chord speaks to the way in which you approach the various activities that make your life interesting. Unlike many others, you’re not afraid or ashamed of taking on activities that are not your forte. In taking up those activities, and doing them consistently, you actually do become better at them, and that in itself is fulfilling. It’s the journey and the delight of learning things and developing new skills that we should be striving for, and fixing our mistakes along the way only adds to the delight because it moves us forward and makes us better. I really enjoyed this post–it struck the right chord!

    1. Scott Berkun

      Thanks Serge. You’re right – I think it’s good to be a dabbler if you make things. Even if you never escape being a novice at something, going through the process of learning and asking basic questions is useful when you return back to things you’re an expert at. For example, now you have me thinking: “where in my writing have a taken an easy way? Is there something I should go back and learn the right way?”


  4. Terri

    I think of watching little kids. They learn to crawl and get places. The hard way to get somewhere is learning to walk, but once they learn to walk, it’s much easier than crawling. It takes effort to make progress, but the slower, harder way of doing things is often a necessary step. Sometimes we just want to “get something done” and don’t want to mess with the harder effort, so you will see a baby take off crawling since they aren’t quite good at the walking yet. They have to feel more confident before they take off and skip the old way. Soon enough, crawling will be harder than walking. It’s much easier to be an old, stiff person on your feet than trying to get on the ground and crawl around. The difference is muscle strength versus balance. It’s a trade off, and we are always changing.
    Sometimes the “right” way is all based on perspective. Something hacky to one person is perfect for another.


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