For much of my life, the word “hack” was an insult. No writer wants to be called a hack; it means he’s either a crappy writer, or a decent one who’s wasting his talent.
In politics, a hack is a mercenary tool. He’s the guy who’d work for Beelzebub if it helped pay for his vacation home.
Then there’s computing, where a hacker was originally seen in a positive way, as someone who explores the nooks and crannies and solves problems. It wasn’t until later that it came to mean a villain, someone who breaks into networks to steal data and hold it for ransom.
Recently, though, it’s come to mean something else entirely: a work-around, a shortcut, a smoother path to a desired result.
No problem so far. I mean, who doesn’t want faster ways to get through life’s more mundane tasks?
I start to object when I hear the word used in meaningless ways. “Growth hacking,” as far as I can tell, is just regular marketing that sounds like something new and different. “Life hacking” is the kind of advice you can still find in magazines like Men’s Health or Martha Stewart Living.
And if we’re talking about health and fitness, anything preceded by “hack your …” is B.S. “Hack your metabolism for rapid fat loss,” for example, is the same old something-for-nothing promise that fitness marketers have always tried to sell to the gullible masses.
Every honest fitness expert knows you can’t hack a process as complex as human metabolism. The only shortcuts to a body that looks and performs better than what you have now are banned by almost every sports organization. If you’re not willing to take steroids, you’re left with the slow, difficult, and often frustrating processes that you specialize in: strength and conditioning, diet, and lifestyle management.
Same with your career, your family, and anything else that matters to your life.
If you could go back in time, would you hack your career to skip past all the moments when you were unsure of yourself, or made mistakes, or jumped on a bandwagon like SuperSlow or the Zone diet, only to jump off when you learned more? Or do you see those painful, frustrating, embarrassing moments as essential to becoming the person you are now?
If you’re in a long-term relationship, would you want to hack the courtship process and fast forward to the companionable stage you’re in today? Or did those times of awkward uncertainty give you some of your favorite memories, the ones you still tell other couples at dinner parties?
And if you’re a parent, would you want to hack your daughter’s childhood, so instead of rolling over, sitting up, and crawling, she can go straight to playing soccer? Or do you tear up when you look at those old pictures and videos, remembering the pride you felt at every single milestone?
Don’t aspire to hack anything. Don’t look for ways to get around the painstaking process of learning your craft, building your business, or creating a life of purpose and meaning. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with passion, integrity, and occasional humility. (Yes, if you’re doing it right, you will be humbled from time to time.)
Aspire instead to do the hard work successful people have done since the beginning of time. If you don’t, the hack’s on you.