CCA President Ellen Kleinstuber

Choosing the Upward Path

August 18, 2022

When I was growing up, I developed an eclectic array of favorite things. By my teenage years, two of these widely disparate loves was watching figure skating competitions and the poetry of Robert Frost. I’m not generally big on poetry, however Robert Frost’s writing always spoke to me in a way others did not. My favorite Frost poem is “The Road Not Taken,” the ending of which I assume most of us know or recognize:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Every so often I go back and reread Frost’s works, although I will admit it’s been more than a few years since my last reading as I’ve given my time to other pursuits. Each time, I come away reminded that this poem remains my favorite. It has become a quiet mantra of mine – a reminder to not be afraid of trying new things and being open to life’s journey.

The other evening, I came across a Tedx talk by Scott Hamilton, 1984 Olympic Men’s figure skating champion and my absolute favorite skater, titled “Why Suffering Gave Me Power.” Intrigued, I started to listen. In his talk, Scott spoke about being given up for adoption, the mystery illness that kept him from growing as a child and led him to figure skating as a form of therapy, and the multiple bouts of cancer he’s endured. Rather than bemoaning all his struggles, he celebrates them as the motivation that led to his achievements and wonderful life.

Near the end of his Tedx talk, Scott talks about the inevitability that each of us – as Robert Frost so poetically described – will come to a fork in the road. We may think of forks in the road as having two even paths forward – one going left and the other right. Scott suggests, however, that instead of the choices being left or right, they are down or up. Choosing down means to succumb, while choosing up means to evolve.

Choosing the downward path can be the easier route. Granted, the journey of succumbing to adversity and accepting suffering probably isn’t going to be enjoyable or rewarding. It can be, however, easier than choosing the path upward, which includes an evolution of how you think and act.

Choosing the upward path most likely will require moving outside your comfort zone, which can be stressful. And, let’s face it, most of us already have more than enough stress. However, great things never come from staying inside your comfort zone. What if you started to think about stepping outside of your comfort zone as good stress? And the more you challenge yourself to evolve and elevate, the less stressful it becomes to continue.

Remember that the direction you are going is more important than the speed at which you are moving. It helps to celebrate the small successes as they occur. You will encounter obstacles along the way, especially when you take your eye off the goal. Keep moving forward by acknowledging the obstacles, refocusing your attention on what still needs to be done, adjusting your plan if needed and reminding yourself of the prize at the end.

Whatever it is you are heading toward, find something you can use as motivation and then make it part of your mission to honor it. If you listen to Scott’s Tedx talk, you’ll hear him talk about what drove him to keep pushing until he succeeded. You can also check out my blog post from last month (if you haven’t already) that focuses on motivation.

Life is full of choices, and we become the sum of the choices we make. When faced with the choice of succumbing or elevating, choose the path upward. When you reach the top, you’ll be glad you did.

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