When I first looked at the college catalogue of career choices, I decided I wanted to become a forest ranger. The only problem was that in order to reach my goal I would have to take several math classes. Math was never my forte. Sure, I passed the high school algebra classes and even got A’s in geometry and trigonometry. But I never felt competent in those things. So, I backed off and took languages instead and ended up with a Bachelor of Arts degree rather than a Bachelor of Science. I never got to be a forest ranger.
Children’s literature teaches us important truths about winning life’s big prizes. Remember the prince in “Sleeping Beauty”? He knew that the very fairest maiden who had ever lived lay sleeping in the castle tower. She was his if he could just reach her, but between them and all around the castle grew a hedge of cruel thorns. To reach the princess, he had to hack his way through the hedge; and with each stroke of his sword the thorns grew thicker and more threatening. Many men had tried to reach the beauty sleeping in the castle, but all had despaired and given up trying to defeat those thorns.
In a similar manner Jack, of beanstalk fame, finds a tremendous treasure in the sky sufficient to save and support his starving mother. But the treasure is not his for the taking; it is guarded by a vicious giant whose intent is to make a meal of Jack. To have the treasure, Jack must somehow overcome the giant.
So it is in life: the big prizes are guarded by the fiercest giants. We all want lovely homes, fine families, material wealth, success and recognition in our jobs; but it is only those who are willing to take on and overcome tremendous challenges which precede such prizes that are destined to win them. We have to pledge our hearts to the battle. We must be willing to get our hands dirty and our faces sweaty with the work. If we expect to have big prizes, we face and fight the fierce giants. The mild and moderate giants, tough but not overwhelming thorn hedges, guard only the so-so prizes in life.
Because the challenges are truly formidable, the world is full of would-be’s. You know them: the would-be author whose novel is still in his head; the would-be doctor who just couldn’t make himself study enough in high school and college and so didn’t make it to medical school; the would-be millionaire who simply could not make himself save every month when he first started out; the would-be athlete who found training too restrictive; the would-be pianist whose practice time got shorter and shorter; and the would-be forest ranger who wasn’t willing to pay the price and take the requisite math classes.
Most of us get a little discouraged when we find out how really difficult it is to attain great success. We want some shortcut, some clue to link us with our dreams. We know we could be stars or make millions if we just got the right break to start out. I am reminded of the two ladies who were listening to an accomplished mezzo-soprano performing in one of the country’s great music halls. One leaned over to the other and whispered, “I would give my life to be able to sing like that!” The other whispered back, “That is my daughter; she has given her life to be where she is.”
H.G. Wells said, “What on earth would a man do with himself if something did not stand in his way?” In Isaiah we read, “Behold, I have refined thee…; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10). “Life gives to all the choice,” said Spencer W. Kimball. “You can satisfy yourself with mediocrity if you wish. You can be common, ordinary, dull, colorless, or you can channel your life so that it will be clean, vibrant, progressive, useful, colorful, rich.”
I have often wondered how my life might have been different if I had paid the price, fought the giant and hacked down the thorns to become a forest ranger. But, even though I was not willing to pay that price, I have paid others and, although less than spectacular, I am grateful for the results. “The best preparation for the future,” said George Macdonald, “is the present well seen to, and the last duty done.”