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Why You Should Stop Lifehacking and Invest in the Journey

By February 27, 2014May 24th, 201935 Comments

A lark of a tweet I fired off last December that — somewhat to my surprise — went semi-viral, shared across a variety of social networks and blogs like wildfire.

Why is this surprising? And what does it say?

I was surprised because we live in such a meme, hashtag and shortcut obsessed culture. And what is the trending topic of the day? The meme that is beyond reproach, enjoying platinum status and irresistible staying power in every corner of the Internet?

The hack. 

#lifehack #lifehacker #biohack #fitnesshack #diethack #fithack #weightlosshack – and on and on, blah, blah, blah.

Go ahead and Google any derivation of the term and see what comes up. It’s amazing, actually. There are even entire health, fitness, lifestyle and technology conferences built around the idea.

Consistent with our shrinking attention span, demand for immediate gratification, intolerance for hard work, rebuttal of experiential value, and general (illusory) sense of entitlement to the good life, this hack ethos is emblematic of our obsessive modern imperative for immediacy — the drive to turbocharge, accelerate, optimize, scramble, quicken and hasten our way to maximum health, fitness, professional success and ultimately happiness. A hell-bent zeal to quick-fix ourselves to overnight six-pack abs, envious wealth, limitless free time, and in some ways I suppose, salvation. Finger-snap your way to nirvana. Don’t just keep up with The Jones’ – blow them out of the water!

Of course, in many ways this is nothing new – old as time actually. The hack a mere modern vernacular reframing of practices and marketing techniques dating back to the snake oil salesmen and carnival barkers of yore, promising everything from miracle cures to deliverance with a sharp preacher’s tongue and unconscious reflexive response that suppresses question and finds us impulsively forking over our hard-earned coin to the prophet of the moment.

But the acute nature of this modern rush is also something qualitatively new.  And disturbing.

It used to be an insult to call someone a hack. Now it’s high praise. How did a term so historically pejorative suddenly become aspirational?

To figure this out, let’s take a step back.

KnowYourMeme defines “life hacks” as “tricks, skills or shortcuts that are meant to increase a person’s productivity or efficiency in their everyday lives.”

The term was originally coined by tech journalist Danny O’Brien in 2003, but it seems the idea really took off with the publication of Tim Ferriss’ wildly popular 4-Hour Workweek* – a New York Times’ bestselling primer on how to cut inefficiencies out of your waking hours, streamline your day and ultimately “hack” your way to professional and personal happiness. Tim followed up with two companion chart busters — 4-Hour Body* and 4-Hour Chef* — both highly entertaining and instructional roadmaps on shortcutting proficiency of a panoply of fitness and lifestyle skills on a fraction of the traditional time and energy commitment required for mastery. 80% of the results in 20% of the time.

Yahtzee! A movement was born. The rest is history.

And I have a big problem with this.

Okay Tim Ferris fanboys, calm yourselves before you attack me. I actually love Tim’s books. And have nothing but mad respect for everything Tim is about – an idea-generating energizer bunny of a forward-thinking innovator tirelessly upending tradition and plumbing the deep crevasse for creative, new modalities and approaches to do more and live better. That is pure awesome. I too count myself as a fan. As I explain at length in Finding Ultra*, I experimented with and relied upon many of the tools shared in 4HWW to reconfigure my life so that I could properly prepare for my performances at The Ultraman World Championships. They work. And my life is better as a result of reading that book. I am also forever grateful to Tim for allowing me to guest blog on his site  on the day my book was released. He didn’t have to do that. But he did, and I will never forget the favor.  But I digress…

In truth, a properly implemented hack is nothing more than leveraging a good idea (I guess #idea or #goodidea don’t really trend well when it comes to the meme-o-sphere). A way to cut wasted time so that you can invest yourself more fully in what makes your heart truly beat — a passion and pursuit that can transform your life by catalyzing a new journey.

I take no issue with this. It’s great, actually. And I think this is what Tim was actually trying to say.

But somewhere along the line I think even Tim would agree that we lost the thread. Somewhere along the line the hack has become the destination, rather than the tool. An end in and of itself. Kind of like becoming obsessed with a table saw rather than the process of using it to learn how to make a beautiful piece of furniture.

Moreover, the explosion of hack culture seems to inherently disrespect the paramount value of the journey – the true value in any experience — by supplanting it with an expedited rush to access to a result. And result is empty without grappling with the resistance that inevitably defines the battle.

Let’s assume for a moment that there really is a way to circumvent the time-tested notions of hard work, patience, dedication and passion to achieve prosperity, success, health and true satisfaction in life. Spoiler alert: there isn’t.  But okay, let’s assume…

Would I take that path? Should you?

With resounding conviction, I say no.

How dare you – that’s just plain anti-American!

Is it? The entire ideal of the American Dream (which is problematic in it’s own right and basically an illusion, but that’s the subject of another blog post) was founded upon the aforementioned principles. Anything is possible if you work hard. It’s inherent in the very value system of manifest destiny.  It’s what makes America, well, America.

Yet to contravene and devalue the meme of the moment by suggesting the admittedly unsexy notion that hard work, patience & the paramount value of experience over short cuts and quick fixes – in many ways the “anti-hack” — isn’t just iconoclastic, it’s anathema. Our principles have become inverted. A myopia eroding the core value system and the essence of what gives our lives meaning.

If you want to achieve the minimum aptitude threshold in a discipline so that you can tell others you did something, hack away. Implement the short cut, rush to accomplish the task and check the box. Bucket list item #54 done. Moving on to the next hack.

Now ask yourself: how did that experience make me feel?

If you’re like me, probably not much of anything.

Now let’s examine what happens when you try to be the very best you can be at something you are inherently passionate about. Suddenly the heart beats faster. The palms begin to sweat. Maybe it’s excitement. But more likely it’s fear. That’s right, fear. Commitment — total dedication to the core — is about as scary as it gets. It’s not just hard. It’s without a doubt the most difficult thing imaginable. Because if you take that risk, truly put yourself completely on the line and fail (or succeed — yes fear of success plagues more than you might imagine), then you will have to reckon with yourself. Terrifying!

But that is the whole point and purpose. Failure (or success) – or at least the prospect of failure (or success) – is what gives the journey proper context, rich consistency, and towering emotional, physical, financial and spiritual stakes that fertilize the soul for quantum growth irrespective of outcome. And growth is everything. But it can only result from earnest investment in experience. So fear and commitment aren’t things to be avoided, but rather embraced with a bear hug of everything.

This is to say that the inherent value of any given experience is directly proportional to the extent to which you are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually invested in it.  Using a hack to short cut the journey only robs you of the rich texture presented by the opportunity.  In a word, it’s the difference between winning the lottery and earning that ransom by weathering the blood, sweat and tears that come with total fidelity.

So it’s the experience you should be seeking, not the short cut.  It’s the voyage you should embrace, not the destination. It’s the path that elevates the soul, not the destination. It’s the process that ennobles, not the result.

If you’re with me so far, then congratulations. I submit that you are on the right track.

A track that has no tolerance for hacks.

On a personal level, I could have competed at the Ultraman World Championships on 20% of the training I put in and still finished the race. But I didn’t. Instead, I put everything I had into those races because I had a yearning to answer a question for myself – what am I truly capable of? That query and yearning that could only be answered to my satisfaction by eliminating shortcuts and investing completely.

I could have banged out my book in 20% of the time it took to write it and likely it would have still found it’s way onto the Kindle. But I couldn’t say that I did everything possible to tell the story I wanted to tell to the best of my abilities. 

I could be out having dinner with friends right now rather than pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to make sense of these ideas swimming around in my head. After all, I’m not getting paid for this. I had dental surgery today and should be in bed right now. Nobody asked me to write these ideas down. Quite possibly (likely?) you might all dislike the offering altogether. And ultimately writing is hard. Really hard. Much harder than riding my bike. I already tweeted the notion, so it would be easy to rationalize watching House of Cards instead. But I would be repressing who I am. Denying my passion to express myself.  Saying no to experience.

And that is simply unacceptable.

Today I enjoy tremendous satisfaction knowing that on a daily basis I strive to invest absolutely everything I have in what makes my heart beat hardest. Looking back, it seems to all make perfect sense how events unfolded to take me from where I was to where I am today. But in the midst of it all, it was generally a chaotic, terrifying madness often teetering on disaster and punctuated by countless lows and gut-wrenching come-to-Jesus moments — I risked everything to the journey on a level beyond any relationship to rationality or acceptable norms of sanity.

And yet I rarely think about destinations.  What it was like when I crossed a finish line.  What I was feeling the day my book finally hit shelves. What I was doing the day I finally was able to hang up the suit and stop practicing law for a living. Or where I was when my little podcast project surpassed a million downloads. But not a day goes by that I don’t feel tremendous gratitude for the process endured to arrive at those seminal moments in my life. The unbearable pain of that 40-mile training run. The countless all nighters spent writing my book at the 24-hour Kinko’s sitting next to the homeless guy using a desk as a bed (I had no office at the time and for whatever reason I can’t seem to write well at home, but again I digress). It’s the vividness of those memories that give me a profound sense of fulfillment and gratitude. A sense of trudging a path of deep personal meaning. Simply put, you just can’t put a dollar value on that. As trite as it may sound, it truly is priceless.

Don’t misunderstand.  I like goals and I like achieving them.  They keep me focused and act as powerful drivers that lend structure to my day.  But it’s crucial to emotionally detach from the end result or third-party reception to your efforts. Let it go. It’s none of your business. It’s also irrelevant. But what is relevant is signing up for the journey. What is crucial is showing up at the starting line. What is essential is taking that first step, followed by a second, on what I can only hope will be a pilgrimage that will last the remainder of your days in this short life. Irrespective of success or failure (subjective terms anyway), you are guaranteed to experience what it is like to be fully invested in something, anything. This is what it is to be completely alive. And that is the gift.

Just the other day I published my podcast interview with filmmaker Casey Neistat. I am a big fan of Casey’s work – in my opinion one of the most interesting, unique and culturally relevant populist filmmakers working today. But I’m an even bigger fan of his ethos and perspective.  A life premised on embracing adventure, for Casey it’s all about the journey. Not to the manor born, Casey raised himself out of his trailer home welfare plight to where he is today by tackling incomprehensible odds head-on; by relentlessly investing in himself and doubling down on his passion; by embracing the hard road; by circumventing the gatekeepers and refusing to wait for permission; and by making countless bold, fearless choices.

Near the end of our conversation, Casey said something really compelling that catalyzed my desire to write this post.  His roadmap for those who ask how he has built the creative, fulfilling life he currently enjoys.  A recipe for success he guarantees to work:

All you have to do is commit your entire life to something, which will result in one of two outcomes. Either you will succeed, or you will die trying, which is in and of itself it’s own form of success.

This people, is the very essence of the anti-hack.

No shortcuts.  Just a good, solid Malcolm Gladwell-esque 10,000+ hours of downright busting your ass on something that means everything to you. Toiling in obscurity. Failing relentlessly.  Picking yourself up off the floor when all is lost and going the extra mile when nobody is looking.  Slow, incremental progress. Tiny hard fought victories along the way that begin to take form. And ultimately congeal to lay the foundation for a life and legacy that has true value.

It’s sexy and easy to frame a narrative of the overnight success story – WhatsApp, Instagram, and American Idol are perfect examples of how the media can twist reality to multiply page views and amplify ratings. But take a peek behind the curtain on any so-called instantaneous triumph and you are certain to find an objective truth that doesn’t fit the neatly packaged narrative. Because every genuine, sustainable success is birthed only from incredible persistence, interminable patience, invisible defeats, rabid dedication and unrelenting passion.

Hacks are about a short cut to a destination. I don’t give a shit about destinations. But I care deeply about showing up and suiting up for the journey. And what I have learned about myself and others by embracing the pain, toil failure, tears, fear, mistakes that go hand in hand with the hard road less travelled is what gives everything meaning, context and value. A deep gratitude for a life lived well – to the fullest, and without compromise.

There is nothing sexy or meme-worthy about the journey. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s not glossy and doesn’t lend itself to a hashtag or a glib tweet. It will never trend on Twitter.

This is not news. Deep down we all know it to be true. It’s why my tweet struck a chord despite being at odds with the savory meme-o-licious flavor of the month.

So if you have a passion and aspire to greatness — if you want to see what you are truly made of, or just how far you can go and what you are truly capable of — forget the hack. Commit to the daily pressure that compels infinitesimal progress over time. Wake up before dawn and apply yourself in silent anonymity. Practice your craft — in whatever shape or form that may be — late into the evening with relentless rigor. Embrace the fear. Let go of perfection. Allow yourself to fail. Welcome the obstacles. Forget the results. Give yourself over to your passion with every fiber of who you are. And live out the rest of your days trying to do better.

I can’t promise that you will succeed in the way our culture inappropriately defines the term. But I can absolutely guarantee that you will become deeply acquainted with who you truly are. You will touch and exude passion. And discover what it means to be truly alive.

In my opinion, this is the legit definition of success. And the essence of greatness.

Because the seat of genuine value, beauty and satisfaction lies in the experience of getting there. That’s the truth.

A promise no hack can give you. Not now, not ever.

*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.



  • Samantha says:

    Incredible post, thank you!

  • Vita nova nutrition says:

    Beautiful and inspiring post rich, thank you!

  • bonvivant says:

    i needed this today … had that “i should be further along the path feeling.” thank you! PS: i first heard about your book when Tim featured it on his site 🙂

  • richroll66 says:

    Thanks for all the great feedback everyone. So pleased at the response to the post. Thanks for reading & commenting!

  • Drew Niemann says:

    Well said Rich! Again putting yourself out there.

  • bryanfarris says:

    Thank you Rich, I needed to read this today.

  • Brad Capello says:

    Rich, I cannot agree more! I was raised on this simple notion that with most things in life “you get what you give”. Put in 20%, and most likely you’ll get 20% back. Great post!!

  • Shibuya says:

    love it! Keep thinking!

  • Koos Verhagen says:

    Thank you so much for these wise words, I really need them in the moment. I am a big fan of your podcast and book. It keeps me on track. Thank you so much for being you and sharing it!

  • Koos Verhagen says:

    Thank you so much for these wise words, I really need them in the moment. I am a big fan of your podcast and book. It keeps me on track. Thank you so much for being you and sharing it!

  • Simon Harrison says:

    ‘I don’t give a shit about destinations’ – best line I’ve read in a long long time!
    We hear all these soundbites like ‘Get Rich’, ‘Die Tryin’, even Gladwell-isms. But, if I can borrow from the great Tolkien, who wrote about one of the greatest journeys ever – a journey taken up by a half a man – it is all about rejecting what we really really want, what seems so ‘precious’ to us. Sometimes in our greatest journeys we have to go towards the Darkness: ‘Verily, that way lies our hope, where sits our greatest fear. Doom hangs still on a thread. Yet hope is still, if we can but stand unconquered for a little while.’ #notahackinsight

  • Pete Bruce says:

    great post Rich. Thank you so much.

  • Greg says:

    Amazing post, and recieved just as injury is forcing me to slow down, start anew, and improve my attack at being a better runner…and person. I’m often impatient, but stoked on the journey for sure. Hell, the destination can’t become too much of a distraction for me anyway. I don’t even know where I’m going. Happy Friday Rich. Thank you.

  • StevenAK says:

    Recent PR’s in 5 miles and 15 mile races and runs. 4 months into a plant based diet. Love the P-cast.

  • James Adams says:

    This is an excellent read Thanks Rich. I remember doing some job interviews once. There was a usual mix of those who had graduated from wherever with whatever and some extra curricular activities and then there was this one guy who didn’t go to university but between the ages of 14-20 he tried to become a professional pole vaulter. (I can’t imagine there being that many places for a pro pole vaulter). The impression I got was that he threw everything at this goal got to a very high standard but in the end didn’t quite make it. It was my opinion that this guy was way more employable than those who just skipped along, passed a few exams and got a certificate. Obviously pole vaulting was not a skill we required but the motivation and character surely was and I was sure he could apply himself to anything. Alas because he didn’t have these university certificates (which can most definitely be “hacked” in the way you describe in this article) he was not considered. It’s a bit sad that particularly the graduate job market these hacks are rewarded. I guess that’s what’s great about running, no hacks just what you put in. Blimey this post has got too long and no one is going to read it now. Perhaps I should do a 20% version.

  • David Ultrashuffle Anderson says:

    Great post – it’s all about the journey.

  • Jeannine says:

    “But in the midst of it all, it was generally a chaotic, terrifying madness often teetering on disaster and punctuated by countless lows and gut-wrenching come-to-Jesus moments” I love that! That is how I feel when I am in the middle of preparing for an event and can barely see my way through. Nice to know others go through this too.

  • it’s the journey, not the destination. it doesn’t have to be hard work, but it is step by step, so you might as well enjoy every moment.

  • Snowkka Hemmomies says:

    You kind of lost me somewhere towards the end of the article. Maybe the word ‘hack’ itself means sth else to you, but the way I see it, the hacks cover a lot of ground, from simple-but-maybe-forgotten life truths to devising a cute way to hang your overcoat. But the nr 1 gripe I have with your article is that it returns to the often-heard myth that every human has or should have one, all-eclipsing passion, for which they then happily and tirelessly devote their entire existence. To my experience, that doesn’t really have much to do with reality. The idea that the journey is better than the destination is of course as good advice now as it ever was but it isn’t exactly a new revelation.

  • Maggie Jones says:

    Just came across your site today Rich… great article. When I was just out of college I remember having the conversation with my parents “follow your passion and you will always be successful and not have to ‘work’ a day” (that doesn’t mean you don’t have challenges and bad days). I didn’t do that. And like so many others I joined the corporate world and worked my way through various companies but never really felt alive and frequently questioned what I was doing. And here I stand at the same crossroads, again, some 30 yrs later. Yesterday, my mum and I had the very same conversation. This time I am determined to follow my passion and spend the remaining years living life to the full, with purpose, adventure and feeling totally alive in mind, body & spirit. Last year I started running Ultras… why? because I followed my passion for running in the mountains. I think we all know deep down what we should do, but we often lack the courage and determination to do it… thanks Rich for your inspiration

  • Great, great read man.

  • Michael Desrosiers says:

    I finally got around to reading this, after hearing the inspiring Casey Neistat podcast. There is nothing sexy about continuous, incremental progress. Yet consistency is almost always the #1 suggestion I hear from successful people. Great post, and thanks for the amazing free content.

  • Barbara Wunder says:

    Thank’s a lot for this, Rich!!!

  • coachbyron says:

    It’s 2:37am and I am up deep in the toil, battling thoughts like, “is it worth it? Why don’t you give up and go back to your 9 to 5. It would make things a hell of a lot easier.” Then I was prompted in my spirit to jump on your blog Rich. BAM! I read this article. I really needed to hear this from a trusted friend. Thanks for following the prompt to write this piece. Like an awesome, refreshing cup of water to quench my parched soul -thanks for being roadside to hand it to me as I stay in the race, and run the ultimate “ultra” called LIFE! Cheers my man!

  • Mark Blampied says:

    Right on Rich! Great article! Love the Podcast, love your work. Keep on doing what you do so well. THANK YOU

  • Phil Cole says:

    I’m totally on board with the doing away with the hack mentality. You totally put it out there. “Manifest destiny” was an unfortunate choice of words, however.

  • True words Rich, great post! I have been a personal trainer for almost 10 years and seen so many supposed hacks or short cuts, it is mind boggling. For the last couple of years I have been focusing more and more on bodyweight training or calisthenics and this involves a lot of skill based work. This often means many failed attempts and possibly frustration, but the end results are so satisfying. It’s about being persistent and goal driven, a great life lesson.

  • Alina Zavatsky says:

    Thank you, Rich. You’ve summed up everything I’ve stood by all my life, especially when no one around me shared my ideas and views, when people thought I was crazy for obsessing over my blog as much as I do. Next time I find myself on the floor paralyzed with bouts of self-doubt and fear, I’ll remember this post. For now, I’ll keep going the extra mile, even though nobody’s watching.

  • Shailendra says:

    I think you have misread this article. I don’t think Rich is talking about or suggesting there is ONE ell-eclipsing passion each one of us is meant to pursue. I think the takeaway here is give your 100% to any hobby/profession/under-taking without caring about the outcome and then just keep doing that and you will experience fulfilment and feel alive. Even if you fail despite doing that the learnings you will gain from giving it your all will help you achieve success at something else.

    Fantastic article Rich – I can’t say enough of how inspiring it is and thanks for providing such precious writing for free!

  • Youssef Azami says:

    Its hard to disagree with this statement. Probably because its true but more likely because its impossible to disprove. It seems like faith is a major part of believing that giving 100% will lead to greatness. Because that’s what people need, faith. Faith that you wont fail. Faith that a journey being as incredible experience that it is wont lead you down and penniless without energy to forge on. My Journey has been filled with ups and downs. You Rich inspire me and give me faith when I’m feeling down. Thanks man!

  • Eddy Borja says:

    …but if hacking is your passion, never stop hacking.

  • Willow says:

    This was just what I needed to read today. Given me the clarity to go for a job I want to go for with the right intention and mindset. Thanks Rich

  • Prevailer says:

    I have read a few articles about millennials, explaining their desires for quick gratification and stuff. I do not rebut that the strive is important in achieving a desired goal – there is definitely an mental and in some cases physical change required in attaining the competency where the goal can then be met – but perhaps the root issue I think is how millennials tend not to feel as much fondness for hard work as do previous generations. They tend to be motivated by the end result and the celebration of it (or celebration without hard work), and see the “process” of hard work as an endurance that should be minimised where possible.
    Being a millennial myself, I see no value in hard work, and despise the physical suffering that fills up the timetables of my baby boomer parents. Nobody likes temperaments of sadness and anger that is result of hard work that’s not fun, but nobody points it out if everyone is committing the same mistake and recognising it as normal.
    Some of us see the mistake, some of us play along with our parents or elders. It tends to be a subconscious choice and a subconscious process of logical deduction resulting in rebellion, therefore it can’t really be changed lest you brainwashed someone into your kind – whose sadness many of us happily despise.

  • Lorann says:

    First of all, I am a huge fan. Your story is very inspiring. However, after reading this post, I think back to your book Finding Ultra. And yes, while your unwavering commitment, drive and focus helped you achieve your goals, I did not have a sense that you were not thinking about the destination or the goal at hand during those very trasformative years; before you truly uncovered you life’s passion. And yet you mention in this post, that you have never been too concerned about the end goal but rather the process. I sensed in your book a longing to “get there” you knew you had to keep pushing on despite all that was happening around you. You had that voice in your head ( that I currently have) that you had to keep pushing on even though you, at times, were not even really sure what it was you were pushing for…..For you, now, you can indeed enjoy the process, as you have uncovered you passion, your purpose, your souls desire. But I wonder, for someone who is just starting on their journey, how you can not focus on where this crazy ride might lead you? Forgive me if I have misunderstood. I don’t question that it takes hard work and dedication for something to truly be worthwhile (hacks won’t get you there) but I think when you, like I, began your journey, you desperately wanted to find out where you were going and it is only in hindsight that you can now say “what a ride that was”! I am not saying the process can’t be enjoyable but I think that until you truly figure out where you are headed, that quest for purpose simply out shadows the journey to get there. I have started a blog as well ( just a basic starter blog) as I begin to unravel my passion for health and fitness, but for now it is mostly therapeutic. I am certain however, that I too will inspire others one day, like you Rich have inspired both my husband and I. With gratitude, Lorann [email protected]

  • Karyn says:

    Thank you for this extremely insightful and inspiring post! The sense of accomplishment we experience when we’ve put in 100% effort attempting to achieve a particular goal, is way more thrilling than the actual goal!

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