“A League of Their Own” has been one of my favorite movies since seeing it. The emotional impact the movie had while still being funny, taking itself seriously enough while not being heavy handed or preachy, made it a spectacular film. (Mind you I believe that it’s a talent that is mostly lost in modern movie making – but that is another topic for another day.) In the movie, Jimmy Dugan (played by Tom Hanks) utters a line that continues to stick with me to this day. And it is one that I’ve used on my child and even on myself at times.
It comes as Jimmy, being the coach of the Rockford Peaches, corners Dottie Hinson (the main character played by Geena Davis), his team’s star player — and arguably the best player in the league — right as she is about to quit due to conflicts with another player, her sister. After arguing about her leaving, she finally says that it “got too hard”. Jimmy’s reply:
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Writing for me is hard. One might look at me and say that writing a thousand words each day and more, of putting something up on my site every day, and believe that it all comes easy for me. That isn’t the case. Not even close. In fact, there are many days where the experience of writing is one of excruciating mental torture. It can become questionable as to why this course of action be pursued at all with how frustrating it is at times. Yet, there is a part of that is what makes it worth it.
Yes, we want to do things because they are fun, such as playing a sport. Or writing. Or running. Or playing a musical instrument. Or [insert activity here]. That element of fun is what is needed at times to serve as a motivator to even begin. Fun alone however in certain things is not enough to build foundational meaning behind the activity. Fun doesn’t drive improvement; challenge does that. Friction. Difficulty.
For the sake of furthering this essay too, let us leave aside that challenge can be, and often is, fun. Even as words churn out that more closely resemble a trash heap than anything legible, the process of working through that, though as described above as “excruciating mental torture”, is fun… albeit in a perverse way.
Challenge helps to create meaning in what we do. Even if that meaning is as simple as the idea of getting better at a task, the activity in question becomes more important, more fulfilling.
It speaks to a larger movement in modern life. As all of our needs are met with increasing ease, meaning that the basic needs of life end up with less and less meaning. Ease ends up replacing purpose. To counter this, we need to better seek it out, to find the points of friction that challenge us.
I find meaning in writing, in the fun of it — in the challenge of it. I don’t do it because it’s easy or simply because it is fun; I do it because I get a sense of deeper connection with myself and with the world through my focus on the task. Without it being hard, I doubt that there would be the connection to it there. It is in that challenge that, difficulty, that hard where the meaning actually is found. “The hard is what makes it great.”