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Of goblins and short cuts

November 12, 2012

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

A fellow I know well enough has been leading a particular venture for a number of years in a very challenging environment. The prize at stake is immense… certainly worthy of consideration… arguably worthy of pursuit. This said, the challenges are numerous and not always in plain view.

Attractive prize waiting, the closing stretch in approach of a finish line always seems fraught with insurmountable obstacles. Not coincidentally, this territory also serves as burial ground for those who would give up or give in. I say, 'give in' here in reference to greed and short cuts and expedience… a preparedness to shave the edges just to be 'over and done with it.'

Character is acquired through attitude and discipline and habit, but revealed only through adversity.

My colleague, Vanya, and I regularly play a match of pool, 9-ball to be exact… a race to 11 games. Playing together for the past eight years, we are closely matched in skill. On any given day, however, the winner is determined, not by luck, as Vanya suggests (albeit only when I win), but rather by character… by discipline, by mental edge and focus on purpose, and by a preparedness to be patient when patience is required.

Pursuit of the lone remaining 9-ball at the end of a game is often a long drawn-out piece of business, a veritable cat and mouse drama, though it's never clear who is the cat and who the mouse. Lacking confidence in one's ability to pot the ball, wisdom calls for a 'safety,'  a shot to place the ball in an equally unattractive position for the opponent. Much like the dog who barks, "I may not be able to reach that bone, but I won't let you have it either." We counter back and forth with safety after safety… until one of us stumbles or falls prey to greed or some other weakness, just to be 'over and done with it.' More often than not, this greed is a fatal error… my own in fact, on Friday afternoon last week.

But I digress…

Returning to the trunk of this tree, my acquaintance exhibits impressive stamina against the tide of temptation for short cuts. Many in the peanut gallery cry out to him, "take the short cut," "shave that corner," "go through this room," "the finish line is just behind that door!"

We recently spoke of 'this room and that door' and the implications of selecting such a path. Here's my takeaway from our conversation. Once opened, that door cannot again be closed. Once entered, that room becomes an inescapable prison cell. Character sacrificed, like virginity lost, is an irretrievable game-changer. Review of the neighbourhood in which this fellow operates his business quickly reveals the skeletal remains of those who gave in and opened the door to that room.

Again and again, history points to the conclusion that short cuts are for the short lived. The right path is by no means an easy path. If it were easy, anyone could do it. For most things worth doing, most people cannot 'do it.'

Indeed, character is revealed only through adversity.

The peanut gallery is full of "cold and timid souls"… armchair quarterbacks unwilling to step into the arena but ever ready to judge those who do. Life offers no guarantees. The straight and narrow is interrupted by many potholes and detours. No one could anticipate them all. Moreover, no one can know, in advance, his or her response when presented with each new goblin emerging from behind trees and otherwise friendly faces.

It's not for me to judge, as I know not what lurks in the darkness awaiting another man's experience. Only the Shadow knows for sure.

Success in outcome is never assured… by character or anything else. At the same time, character revealed and sustained in the face of adversity… is a certain success in and of itself. I am comfortable with the notion that, if and when this fellow meets his sought-after outcome, he will have no difficulty sleeping at night.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

With respect,

Kevin Graham

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