Choosing Difficult Roads

I really like the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. The poem beautifully narrates the decision each of us inevitably faces day in and day out. “Which road should I take?” In the poem there is a road that is traveled by many. Because of this it is well worn. Then there is the other road. This road is overgrown because it is not used as often. The choice Frost makes in which road is taken is simply “Because it was grassy and wanted wear”. There is a sense of adventure and a dedication to the journey when choosing the less traveled road.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;”

Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken

Every day we choose between roads presented to us. Some are small and seemingly insignificant, while others obviously have greater significance and cause us to contemplate our choices. It is more than just a sense of adventure that cause some of us to choose the more difficult road, it’s the rewards that come from it. In taking the road less traveled we are choosing to do hard things and that yields greater rewards.

Choosing to do hard things means choosing to meet challenges head on. It means that the difficult roads are given preference.  The road less taken is not about things being difficult because of foolish decisions or careless choices, it’s about the road being innately difficult. That is not to say that mistakes in life cannot create unintentional roads that lead to character formation and great rewards. Sometimes our mistakes and the roads they create are the best ones because of grace. When I talk about choosing to do hard things, I mean making good choices and choosing the less traveled roads because we are free to do so.

Intentionally choosing the less traveled road.

Why would you or I choose to take a less traveled road? Why navigate the unknown and difficult when the known and safe are options just as easily taken? I believe doing hard things is important and even vital for our individual lives and the lives of others.

When I think about intentionally doing hard things, three questions come to mind.

  1. Why don’t we do hard things?
  2. Why should we do hard things?
  3. How do we do hard things?

“Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,”

Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken

Why don’t we do hard things?

Most of us are impatient. We want instant pay off. For example, credit and loans. Credit cards and loans allow instant gratification. Instead of saving over time and making sacrifices, we can get that thing that we want right now. The hard thing to do is save because it difficult for most of us to wait. There are a few factors that add to the impatience as well. I find myself getting caught up in comparing myself to others and trying to keep up with a certain lifestyle. We all do. Otherwise advertising would not be so prevalent.  According to CNBC credit card debt is at an all time high.

The average American has a credit card balance of $6,375, up nearly 3 percent from last year, according to Experian’s annual study on the state of credit and debt in America. Total credit card debt has reached its highest point ever, surpassing $1 trillion in 2017, according to a separate report by the Federal Reserve.Jan 23, 2018

CNBC 2018

The difficult roads take patience. Sometimes we are forced on to the difficult roads to learn patience! Avoiding the less traveled roads could be an indication that you and I need to work on patience.

It’s not just adults that are caught up in instant pay off. There is no age range restriction for this desire. Consider application and games developed for just about every platform. From the Amazon Kindle and the Android devices to Apple iPads and phones. You can download an entertaining free game that has phenomenal graphics . But it’s free because the Developers are counting on impatience. Not many will play a game that requires hours of repetitive tasks and waiting on events (for as little as 5 minutes) to be able to make progress. Just $1.99 will give you 500 gems/tokens/experience that will let you upgrade your character, dragon, village, etc. You can bypass waiting minutes or hours or days with the use of gems/tokens/experience etc.  In a virtual world you can use real world money to bypass waiting. The Developers are counting on it, and the games are written with this in mind. It works very well. Look at what just iPhone users in the U.S.A. spent in the last year.

iPhone users in the U.S. are spending more money on apps than ever, according to new data from intelligence firm Sensor Tower. They dished out an estimated average of $58 on in-app purchases and premium apps in 2017, a 23% increase from the year before.

Variety – U.S. iPhone Owners Spent $58 on Apps Last Year, More Than Half of That on Games

I believe that impatience is the biggest reason we avoid doing hard things. It takes patience to work through hard things and it takes time to get from here to there. The journey is more than the travel and the time it takes to get from here to there. The journey is more often than not, the point of what we are doing. Be that career, school, relationships, etc. The destination really is often less important than the journey and to gain what you need to gain from the journey, you have to be patient and wait for rewards.

It’s worth mentioning that some roads should not be taken. When you are half way down a long road and in a stretch that is especially challenging, roads will appear that seem right. They are shortcuts and/or diversions. Stick to the road you are on! Some of these roads have names like overeating, porn, abusing alcohol, etc. In other words, addictions. Nothing helps us escape the struggles that character formations brings like an addiction. Just don’t do it. Stick to the road.

There are many reasons why we may not choose to do hard things. Far too many to mention here. Whatever it is that is keeping you from setting your foot on the less traveled road, be it fear, impatience, or otherwise, keep reading. I believe it’s worth facing fears and overcoming impatience to do hard things.

“And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken

Why should we do hard things?

The rewards. The rewards are why we should do hard things. The easy road, the mainstream, the road everyone is on, that road has less rewards. On the road less taken, when you are doing hard things, you are on an adventure in the truest sense of the word.

You cannot just be handed the rewards either. It does not work that way. Even if you have the money, the connections and the power. You won’t know how to handle the rewards. Your character won’t be able to handle them. You have to be faithful with little before you can be faithful with much. In fact, not only will you not be able to handle the rewards, you won’t be able to enjoy them as fully and deeply if you did not earn them.

Rewards

I can think of a handful of rewards that I personally have gained from doing hard things. There are of course many more than just this small list.

  • Doing hard things prepares you for even harder things. In other words, when you are faithful with little things, like honesty and integrity in dealing with your family and friends, you are able to handle the honesty and integrity of running a huge company.
  • Doing hard things prepares you for the unexpected events of life, the emergencies, the disappointments, the sudden victories. If you are not familiar with hard things, then you could be taken out by the unexpected. If you are familiar and practiced, then you will weather the unexpected storms and success. I know it’s not common to think of a storm as a success, but if you are not prepared for success, it can take you out just the same as failure and tragedy.
  • Your character is built. There are countless books and articles on character and it’s importance. I won’t spend time on this, just to say that your character is important and it’s only forged in the fires of trial and hardship.
  • Perseverance. I love the definition of perseverance. “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success”. Growing up the word perseverance was always followed by the word integrity. They are different but similar. One is the action of the other in a simplistic way. Integrity is the steadfast following of a moral code while perseverance is the doing of it. 
  • For those of us who practice a faith, when you are in the midst of a difficult road, you are more likely to lean on your faith and deepen it. This is a huge reward that comes with multiple other rewards. In James 1 (Bible) James tells us that God works through trials and we are to even consider the hard roads as a joyful thing. Not happy, that’s different. Happiness is dependent on circumstances and is an emotional thing. Joy is deeper and independent of circumstances. You can think of it as Coram Deo. “In the presence of God”.
  • Adventure! Risk, difficulties, doing hard things, these are a part of the less traveled road, and for that reason the road is less traveled. There is adventure here! You are doing something unique when you choose a different road from the road the mainstream takes. I love to hike and I have done several 2 week backpacking trips in the Tahoe National Forest. Hands down my favorite part of doing this is seeing what I know very few have seen. Nature untouched because it is so deep and far removed from access. You have to put up with all the struggles of hiking miles and miles with 80+ pounds on your back, sleeping in the wilderness, the lack of a bathroom and all the fun that comes with, drinking chlorine water, feeling dirty and fatigued and sore. To reach these amazing places takes dedication and sacrifice. And it’s worth it. 
  • Introduce yourself to … you. The road externally has the unknown to be discovered, but so does the road internally. Do you know yourself? How well? You will learn things about yourself.  You will discover both good and bad. 

How do we do hard things?

This is a tricky question! The answer is not straight forward. As you may have picked up on, the less traveled roads are in themselves the the answer to the question “how do we do hard things”.

We pick up the skills to travel the difficult roads in traveling them. We learn to choose and do the hard things in the process of doing them. A lot of times we find ourselves on the hard roads without ever choosing them. But the decision to choose the less traveled road and the decision to stay on the less traveled road are similar and equally important. 

Keeping in mind that the rewards that come from doing hard things become the abilities to do hard things. Here are just a few tips to keep in mind that both prepare and sustain you on the less traveled road.

  • Be prepared for routine. Routine is not exciting and the road to great rewards is often paved with the mundane. Not all adventure is adventurous at all times. Knowing this and accepting this goes a long way to success. Humility, character, and faith are your strongest tools here. To prepare for this create plans for when the mundane is too much. Celebrate all victories, even the small ones. Break the routine sometimes. Go to a coffee shop or go to a different coffee shop and strike up a conversation with your barista. Take a different way to work or if you work from home, work from the library or a coffee shop.
  • Be prepared for the wilderness. That is to say, the long stretches of road where your resolve is tested. This is where your perseverance is formed and perfected. To prepare for this, let your friends and family know when you need them, let them know you are struggling. Seek and receive encouragement because you need that, and it’s okay to need to people. Actually it’s more than okay, it’s good and healthy.
  • Be prepared for temptation. You can’t have a plan for giving up. Persevere to the end. Remember we talked about the roads you should avoid at all costs. If you are not all in, the shortcuts and the diversions will be all that more visible and tempting to you. Call it coping with stress, call it covering pain, whatever it presents as, don’t do it. Prepare for this by having a plan for when you feel the pull of whatever it is that pulls you in life. Be it food, TV, Internet, Gaming, etc. That plan should include one or more persons that keep you accountable.
  • Be prepared for loneliness. It can be lonely on the less traveled road at times. By definition, it’s less traveled. How that typically plays out is that you may go inward or get contemplative during difficult times. That’s good to a degree, but anything in excess is not good. To prepare for this make sure you are reaching out when you need to. Be a part of a community and stay active there even when you do not feel like it.

“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 – The Road Not Taken

I wish you the best on your journey! Perhaps our roads will cross some day. 


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