“I miss spending my days with Phillip.” Such was how my wife, Sally, described what she now missed most about her time on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. After over 500 miles of walking and nearly six weeks of 24/7 companionship, it was a profound affirmation of what we share. I couldn’t agree with her more.
Today, Sally and I celebrate 29 years of marriage. In the celebrating, it’s easy to remember the joys, special moments, and broad sense of success that accompany such a milestone. It’s also easy to forget the difficulties.
Looking-in from the outside at this moment in time, one might conclude that we won the marriage lottery: we have four wonderful children, two beautiful grandchildren, loving family, satisfying careers, a nice house, and we still seem to like each other. One might conclude that Phil and Sally got lucky.
Roadway of Bricks
Such is the way with anything we build that has any value. Success looks like a simple arrival but it is more like a roadway built of bricks. That road looks really small when it’s only got a few bricks in place. Look again when it stretches for a hundred, or five hundred, miles and it’s far more impressive. When you travel backwards along that road, you can see all of the beautiful differences made along the way – the bricks blend to present a cohesive stretch of highway among the moments.
However, if you look closely enough, you can see the cracks, repairs, ups, downs, bridges built over danger, detours, and crossroads. That road, seamless at this destination, was built brick by brick, in wind, rain, and through darkness, as well as in the sunshine. The long, winding road would not seem such a success if the slow, painstaking process of adding bricks was stopped before it reached today’s destination. The long stretch hides so many of the struggles along the way. The struggles along the way make the long stretch all the more valuable.
The successes we see in ours and other’s lives almost always reflect a slow, brick-by-brick building process that pushes past the barriers met on the path. Value, it seems, is a long game, crafted in small increments and measured by time, milestones, and impact. The process of building itself seems to create value by virtue of enduring. The value built touches the lives of others along the way.
When we see a couple celebrating 50 years of marriage, we are tempted to idolize their relationship. “I wish I had what they have.” We tend to see that couple as a pair of fortunate ones brought together under the right star and destined to prosper in an idyllic journey of togetherness. It’s easy to overlook the distance they traveled and the hard fought battles they survived to build that successful union.
What about the successful entrepreneur? The successful physician? Attorney? Teacher? Author? Artist? The long road defines success. Value is built one brick at a time, eventually creating many successes and surviving many failures during the journey.
Destiny? Sure. There’s a plan, a purpose for your life. Just remember that it’s your choice to embrace it. You have to walk the path. You don’t have to appreciate the blessings you find along the way. You don’t have to pursue the opportunities that present themselves. You don’t have to forgive those who let you down. You don’t have to push through when it’s difficult or try again when you’re knocked down. You don’t have to face your fears or show up when invited. That plan for your life can be left on the shelf as you wait for the next bump to take you where it may.
There Are No Shortcuts
Quit waiting for the lottery. There are no shortcuts. Value happens through time and distance. It must be built. You will be blessed with opportunities, but you have to act upon them. You will be cursed with challenges, but you have to push past them. If you take a bus to Santiago, you miss everything between here and there. Checking the box feels good for a moment but there is nothing lasting in that. Build your road, one brick at a time. Only after investing yourself thus over time will you be able to recognize the value in what you’ve built.
As for me, I will count my blessings, and my challenges, today. I’ll celebrate for a moment and then start working on the next row of bricks. The road goes on.