How The Hammer Fails You

When I was 17, I destroyed a barn.

My father had deemed one of our farm’s crumbling outbuildings beyond repair, and set me and my brother loose.

We came to it gleeful and howling, armed with hammer and sledge, eager to smash it to pieces in a bacchanal of destruction.

Minutes later, chests heaving, faces glistening with sweat, we stared in dismay at the un-budged structure: all we had to show for our wild smashing was a few dented boards.

Decrepit as it was, that small barn did not come apart so easily, did not comply with our brute, exuberant force.

Its destruction required a more measured dismantling.

We imagine with relish the wholesale destruction of that which enslaves us: the fell-swoop demolition of our prisons of debt, obesity, lethargy, inertia, addiction, depression, malaise, apathy.

We think: if only we could find a hammer big enough, and if only we had the strength to swing it, how we would make such short work of these miserable shackles.

But our prisons are not so easily destroyed.

As, to our dismay, becomes apparent soon enough.

For it is precisely these failed swings of the hammer that form a new, master shackle: the belief that our prison walls are unbreakable, leaving us tragically cured of the drive to free ourselves.

But blunt force was never the answer. The prison walls were MADE to withstand raw power.

The hammer’s impotence is not cause to quit the project of freedom and self extrication: it is a call to pick up a different tool.

My brother and I, we dismantled that barn in the end. But not by attacking with hammer and sledge.

We had to begin with another tool: the humble crowbar.

Your wild smashing on your boarded-up life will only leave you sweaty and bile-throated, your station unchanged, still stuck fast within your prison.

Ah, but when you pick up the crowbar:

Quiet, peering, you find a small space between the boards.

You slide in the thin end of the bar: the holy wedge.

You work the wedge in further, back and forth, until finally it is as deep within the crack as it can go.

Then, by the bar’s recurve, you pull on this magic lever you have created, and your chest does a little lurch, like the fluttering of a bird as you hear the tell-tale screech of nails being torn from their anchorage.

You repeat the process for the other end, until now, the board is off: one scale ripped from the dragon’s flank, the throat flesh exposed.

Your chest pounds at this small, clean victory, and, thus winged, you begin again, working this same magic on the next board, and the next, again and again, on and on, until finally, you have weakened the enemy to such a point that NOW you can take up the hammer and finish him off with those wild, gratifying blows.

Wherever your life has locked you in, wherever force has failed you, put down the hammer: pick up the crowbar.

For your finances:

You long to smash your harrowing debt, your upside-down mortgage, your income-dwarfing expenses with the hammer of some off-chance jackpot or windfall.

While other men wait, hopeless and helpless for these outside miracles, be the man who instead peers closely at your situation: be the man who finds the crack, the loose scale.

Seize one element of your financial life you can incrementally improve, one lowly board you can pry loose:

Switch to a cheaper insurance carrier. Eat beans and rice once a week. Work a 10 hour a week side-hustle. Sell the motorcycle to pay off that 18.5% interest credit card debt.

And then, once that board is off, move on to the next, the power welling within you, carrying you higher, faster, firmer in growing crescendo.

For your marriage:

You long to smash the inertia and apathy and mutual-resentment that has boarded up your marriage. You look with desperation for the hammer, for the line of reasoning that will make her finally, forevermore, see the light: that will make her magically able, and willing, to meet your long list of long-neglected needs.

Quit the hammer. Pick up the wedge:

Kiss her goodbye each time you leave the house, even if for a 15 minute grocery run. Hold her 5 seconds longer when you hug her. Give her one gift a week. Send her one praising text a day.

For your health:

You long to smash your entrenched addiction to sugar, corn, stress, and sleep deprivation with the hammer of some firm resolution, or some outside personal trainer who can somehow save you from yourself.

Forget these fantasy hammers. Pick up the crowbar. Insert the wedge:

Have 1 scoop of powdered greens with every meal. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier. Take a 10 minute walk every day.

Stop grandstanding with your impotent sledge and rip out one board.

The hammer will come. But first, prepare the glory with the humbler, fitter tool.

Squint out the crack. Apply the crowbar.

No matter how fortified your prison, no matter how thick the nails, nothing can long withstand the quiet wrenching of the wedge.

Nail by nail, board by board, you will be free.


  1. Wow! I love this! Please know that your wife knows when you are working to get more family money and wants to support you. Now is the only time….ever. God bless you Bryan and your ideas. Write me anytime if you want to run anything by me. I have read all your articles and commented as straight; married with kids. Best of luck

  2. Awesome message. Just what I needed! Peace&Luv

  3. Good one!

  4. thank-you Brian. this is exactly what i needed to read today!

  5. Loraine Melero says

    I am a 64 year old woman who finds this website extraordinary! I raised a son who is now 39 and just recently got married for the first time and is looking forward to fatherhood. He is preparing for the financial responsibility by taking his critical care nursing career to the next step as a nurse practitioner. I read your articles on fatherhood and have forwarded a few of them to him to read himself. But what i find amazing is how the article “how the hammer fails” seems to speak to me personally. I love it and forwarded that to my son as well. Thank you so much for bringing this way of thinking to men, who i deeply respect for their contribution to making this world a better place for all of us.

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