I’ve often reflected on an experience I had when I was studying in college. With a busy semester ahead of me, I decided to take “Death and Dying,” an elective that had the reputation of being an exceptionally easy course (a “bird course” we called it back then). On the first day we arrived in the lecture hall, the professor handed out a reading list and what he assured us were the lecture notes for the entire course. With these in hand, we were told, there was little use in showing up for the rest of the year unless we were really and truly interested in the subject matter. It was not a difficult course, he said, and we could probably do fine if we just turned in the assignments and showed up to write the exam. Needless to say, most of us took this as an opportunity to have an evening to ourselves each week rather than actually sitting through long and boring lectures on a subject that was of little interest. Also needless to say, most of us earned very poor grades. I’ve contrasted this in my mind to courses where the professor challenged us on the first day that his would be an exceedingly difficult course and one that would require the best we had. With such a challenge, many students rose to the challenge. Knowing that expectations were high and knowing that we faced a long and difficult fight, we reacted by putting out more effort and ultimately by doing better.
High expectations, it seems, often results in greater performance. Tragically, we live at a time where we expect very little of teenagers. The teen years, we seem to think, are a time where we can and must expect little. If our teenagers manage to avoid dangerous drugs, manage to avoid pregnancy and manage to avoid completely derailing their lives, we consider these years a success. We maintain low expectations and are not surprised when teenagers deliver very little.
Do Hard Things is a book for teens—and a distinctly different kind of book for teens. “Check online or walk through your local bookstore. You’ll find plenty of books written by fortysomethings who, like, totally understand what it’s like being a teenager. You’ll find a lot of cheap, throwaway books for teens, because young people today aren’t supposed to care about books, or to see any reason to keep them around. And you’ll find a wide selection of books where you never have to read anything twice—because the message is dumbed down. Like, just for you.” But this book is a challenging book, and one written by teens and for teens. It is written by Brett and Alex Harris, whose greatest claim to fame (other than being the younger brothers of Joshua Harris) is being the minds behind The Rebelution—one of the internet’s most popular sites for teens and now a series of conferences. This book continues the message they’ve been communicating in every other forum.
That message is simple but far too often overlooked in society today: rebel against low expectations. They cast a vision of a better way of doing the teen years in which so many teens have been “conditioned to believe what is false, to stop when things feel hard, and to miss out on God’s incredible purpose for [the] teen years.” They look at five kinds of hard—five different kinds of hard things that can challenge the expectations of those around them: things that are outside of your comfort zone, things that are beyond what is expected or required, things that are too big to accomplish alone, things that don’t earn an immediate pay off and things that challenge the cultural norm. They describe each of these through stories and examples drawn primarily from their lives and from the lives of other “rebelutionaries” who have shared their stories with the authors.
Though this book is targeted squarely at teens, I can’t deny that the message rubbed off even on this reader whose teen years are far behind. There is something inspiring in watching teens shake off the low expectations that plague their lives and there is something in it that makes me want to examine where I may also have fallen prey to low expectations. Writing as the proud older brother of these authors, Joshua Harris says “Every former teen needs this book, too. I know I do. There’s no age-limit on the Rebelution. It’s never to late to do hard things.”
For too long our expectations of teens, and their expectations of themselves, have been far too low. In Do Hard Things Alex and Brett Harris rebel against low expectations and encourage their peers to meet the challenge of doing tough things for God’s sake and for God’s glory. I wish I could have read this book when I was a teen. I’m glad that my children will have the opportunity. I pray it will stir them and stir a whole generation of young people, to use their teen years to do the hard things God calls them to do. And I pray that the teen years are only the beginning, only the foundation, of lives lived to the glory of God.