Don't Avoid the Hills

One of my all-time favorite movies is “The Princess Bride”. In this classic fairy tale saga one of the antagonists, Vizzini, declares to the captured Princess, “Life is pain, Princess.”
I thought about this line often as I struggled to complete the final few miles of the Big Cottonwood Canyon Marathon near Salt Lake City in mid September. The question popped into my mind more than once of, “Why?” Coworkers, friends, and family have on multiple occasions asked of my long-distance running, “Why? Why subject yourself to that pain?”
The answer to that question is the subject of another day and another post. But during a morning run last summer in Rexburg, Idaho I reflected upon the ‘why’ and the ‘pain’ of running. As I struggled up a rather steep incline wishing I had chosen an easier route, a simple phrase popped into my mind that resonated not just with that particular run, but with life in general:
Don’t Avoid the Hills
My family was visiting cousins in Rexburg and I had escaped the commotion of a house full of 9 kids–5 of which were mine–and all under the age of 10. This was the second morning I had gone running and was a little more familiar with the local terrain. I followed the same route as the day before, but as I approached the top of a mild incline on one of the main city streets I came to a bend in the road. I suddenly had a choice to make. I could continue on the same path as the day before; it would lead me to the center of town and to the university. I knew the route, I knew what to expect, and I would be comfortable with the run. It was the safe decision.
Or, instead of following the bend of the road, I could, as Robert Frost penned, take the road less traveled. The road to the right was a picturesque country setting, lined with large oak trees and peaceful looking homes. Because of the large trees and the increasing incline, I couldn’t see too far down the road, so I didn’t know where it led to. I assumed I could eventually make a large loop around town and wind up back where I started, but I wasn’t totally sure. And, of more immediate consequence for the runner in me, this new route looked a little more “hilly”. Was it worth trying this new route at the risk of getting lost or tackling more hills?
And that’s where the phrase popped into my mind:
Don’t Avoid the Hills
As the road turned left, I turned right and followed the new, uncertain path. The road was as pretty and peaceful as I suspected. It also led to hills far steeper than I anticipated. But I didn’t turn back. I pushed myself up the daunting inclines, enjoyed the beautiful vistas, and relished the satisfaction of making it to the top. I eventually was able to make a large loop around the town and back to our cousin’s home, a round trip of just over 10 miles. Back at the house I felt the inner satisfaction of accomplishing something difficult. I was a better runner for taking the road less traveled.
Yes, life is pain. But not fruitless or meaningless–and there is joy to be found. Undoubtedly we grow the most when we’re pushed the hardest. Rarely, if ever, is something important or meaningful accomplished without adversity, struggle, and, challenge.
There are also naysayers at every turn. Most people don’t want you to try something difficult because you might succeed. Better to play it safe, they’ll say, and not take the risk of failure.
But you know what, don’t buy that line of thinking.
The next time you come to a bend in the road of your life, don’t automatically stay on the path of least resistance. Don’t be too quick to dismiss the notion that you could accomplish something great, regardless the level of difficulty. Don’t assume that you aren’t the outlier of success.
Embrace the challenges of life, don’t dismiss them. Conquer the hills, don’t avoid them.

Alex Stoddard

Alex Stoddard is the President and CEO of CS Music and Classical Singer magazine. Since 2003 Alex has been involved heavily with CS in advertising sales, the CS Vocal Competition, the CS Convention, and the development of the website Alex graduated with a B.A. from Brigham Young University and a M.S. from Utah State University. He currently lives in Lehi, UT with his wife Becky and their 6 children and is a high school basketball coach on the side.