The twin brothers and co-authors recently released a follow-up to the 2005 best seller, Do Hard Things, which inspired thousands of young people around the world to make a difference in their schools, neighborhood and the world.
Called Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are (Multnomah), the new book tackles questions such as: How do I get started? What do I do when I get discouraged? What’s the best way to inspire others? This practical guide is filled with real-life stories and insights from Alex, Brett and other teens who were tired of mediocrity.
The Harris brothers took time from very busy schedules to talk about the book and share ideas on how parents can help their kids “Start Here.”
Q: How can your new book encourage people to start living a life of action and service?
Alex: This book is designed to really help with the practical questions that young people have when they’re confronted with the challenge to do hard things, mainly, “Where do I start?” They want to know, “How do I do this and also deal with the fact that I have parents who are trying to make sure I’m not taking on too much?” Or, “My parents have low expectations for me and don’t think I can accomplish what God has put on my heart to accomplish.”
It’s for young people of any age who are asking the questions, “Well, does it count if I’m just doing small things?” or “Can someone who’s 9-years old really accomplish anything?” Both the stories as well as the ideas that we share in Start Here are designed to answer those questions and to give young people both a vision for faithfulness into everyday hard things that God gives them, as well as just the power that God has to take anyone who’s willing to step outside their comfort zone and really do what people might think is impossible through them.
Q: What would you say to a parent whose child is sitting on the sidelines to help him or her take that first step to get started in living outside of themselves? What kind of role can parents play?
Brett: First of all, you want to make sure that everyone knows we’re not parents and so we really could only share what we’ve heard good parents say and specifically what our parents have said.
Doing hard things has to start in your own life if you want to encourage it to happen in your child’s life. My parents modeled for us what it meant to obey God even when it was hard. They made decisions for our family that weren’t necessarily always comfortable or weren’t necessarily always convenient, but that were right. Having parents who were doing that was probably one of the biggest reasons that we were able to grow up and pursue what God’s called us to do even when it was difficult.
Example is so important and if parents are sitting on the sidelines, then it’s going to be hard to get their children to get off the sidelines. But if you’re just a consumer and not a producer, if you’re not actively guarding or discerning your media choices, or the things you read, or the things you watch, it’s tough. It’s hard to have that same expectation of your young person. The biggest thing our parents did was modeling that mindset.
Then once you’re doing that, I think it can be powerful for parents to include their kids in the good things that they’re doing. Our dad took us to work and he let us sit there and listen. Afterward he would explain, “You know, when I was talking to Mr. Jones about this, this is what was happening” and then we’d go out to ice cream to make sure everyone was really happy with the day.
I think parents can make the mistake of thinking that their children’s lives and the hard things that they’re doing need to be entirely separate from what God’s put on the parent’s hearts to do. If the children are part of a family, they’re part of a team. Sometimes the first step is not to give them their own project, but to let them practice in being responsible and faithful in what the family’s doing.
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Alex: I would add that kids need parents who really do believe in the potential that God has given them and encourage them. Our parents always encouraged us and pushed us to step outside our comfort zone. It really communicated that they believed we could do it and that God would strengthen us to accomplish it. So even in those times when it was scary and it was hard, we were able to grow and our parents did a great job of knowing when we needed a little extra push, a little extra encouragement. They intervened, so to speak, into our lives at key times as God’s agents for causing us to grow and mature, and to realize that God truly desires to and will use us when we’re willing to obey Him, even if it’s hard.
Q: What about the opposite issue? What if parents are afraid their child is taking on too much?
Alex: I think a lot of times you can have parents who are protective of their children because their children are doing a lot of things already. It really varies from family to family, child to child because sometimes they really are doing a lot of good things and their plate is full. To try to add on top of that in the new “hard things” category is really redundant because they are doing hard things and they are being faithful in the season of preparation. They’re doing their studies. They’re being part of the family team and so we’re not out to try to add this new burden on families.
It’s really a mentality more than it is any group of activities but, at the same time, it also could be that there are children who are involved in a lot of activities but they’re not really doing hard things. They’re not really pushing themselves. They’re not really growing. They’re coasting through it or their lives are filled with things that don’t necessarily bring glory to God.
In that case, there needs to be a stepping back, evaluating activities and a recognition that God doesn’t give us conflicting obligations. He calls all of us to do hard things and He also calls young people to be faithful in the season of preparation.
For young people who feel like there’s too much on my plate, or for parents who feel like there’s too little on my child’s plate, recognize that because God is good, He doesn’t give us conflicting obligations. There will always be time for everything that God has called us to do. It might require cutting some things out in order to make time for it all. Sometimes doing hard things is saying “no” or dropping out of some activity in order to make time for something God is calling me to do.
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Q: Do you think parents can learn anything in the book that would apply to their own lives?
Alex: We’ve had a lot of great responses from parents saying that this book has been an encouragement for their own projects and their own hard things that God has called them to do. That’s been really encouraging because we believe that these truths are true for young people and if they’re true for teens, then they’re true for all of life.
Doing hard things is something that we’re going to continue to do for our entire lives. So for parents to catch that vision for their young people, for young people to catch that vision for the rest of their lives, is something that we’re really excited about. Obviously, this book is really meant to give wings to those desires. It’s practical, it’s full of dozens and dozens of stories, and there are over a hundred examples of hard things that real life young people have done in their response to this message. It’s a great school for figuring out where to start.