Beware the path of least resistance

Saturday, September 30, 2006


If I could offer any prescription for success it would be to keep on keeping on. While my children attended junior high, I rejoined the ranks of college students to complete a previously attempted degree. My ambition to finish college was almost as strong as my desire for air. Yet in the back of my mind, I wondered if I could succeed, especially since it had been a while since I had attempted to study and take tests. What if I couldn't do it? I wondered. Then I'd really feel bad. But the hunger was so persistent I decided to climb that mountain rather than giving up.

I resumed my college career by taking independent studies courses. I wanted to get my feet wet before again attending school in person. I questioned if I was smart enough. However my proctor made a comment that forever changed my perspective. "Intelligence isn't the main ingredient necessary to graduate from college. What it takes," she said "is the tenacity to finish -- the perseverance to keep at it day after day."

Although it was difficult to attend classes each day, I eventually summoned the courage to enroll in an on-site college. I constantly recited what she had told me -- and kept on going! Attaining my first degree was difficult, time-consuming and stressful because I had the usual family responsibilities to deal with.

I talked encouragingly to myself and read motivational literature. One particular story gave me just the ammunition I needed, teaching how difficulty and challenge can help rather than hinder one from attaining their dreams.

"Shake It Off and Step Up"

A farmer owned an old mule that fell into a well. After assessing the situation, the farmer reluctantly concluded that neither the mule nor the well was worth saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together and enlisted them to help bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.

Initially the old mule was frantic, but as the dirt kept hitting his back, something happened. It dawned on the mule that every time a shovel load landed on his back, he should SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP! This he did, blow after blow. Shake it off and step up -- shake it off and step up. No matter how painful the blows or how distressing the situation, the old mule fought panic and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up.

Before long, the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly through the mouth of that well. What seemed like it would bury him had actually helped him -- all because of how he handled his adversity.

Life is like that. Nothing can take the place of persistence. In Philippians 4: 12-16 Paul states that one must "continue his pursuit toward righteousness in hope that he'll possess it, to forget what lies behind and strain forward toward the goal of God's high calling in Christ Jesus."

Just as we continue working toward spiritual maturity, the same concept applies when attaining earthly goals. Don't give up -- but carry on toward our aspiration. According to Calvin Coolidge "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

It's easy to take the path of least resistance and say "I can't," or "I'll do it tomorrow," but we too can be like the mule -- shake our problems off our back and step up. For what discourages us most usually benefits us best.

Ellen Shuck is director of religious education at St. Mary Cathedral Parish.

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