Roads to our goals are long, often paved with obstacles

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

“If the road was any shorter, it would not reach,” an old mountaineer replied when a visitor once complained about how long the road was to his mountain home.

That comes close to saying it all about a lot of things.

The road to life, happiness, education, love, family, job fulfillment and everything we hold dear and precious is a long one, filled with potholes, blind curves, obstacles and sacrifices galore.

But if it were any shorter, it would not reach.

Just ask a few Olympians.

For more than two weeks, the world’s finest athletes met in Beijing, where all paths ended in the wonder of linked golden circles and a famous flaming torch. They competed against the best on the planet — sometimes each other, sometimes themselves.

World records, Olympic records or personal bests were the barometers of some athletes’ success, giving context to their scores. Others relied on “impartial” judges or the magic of instant replay for final results.

Some looked as if they belonged on the elementary school playground, while others wore their wrinkles as proud badges of experience.

Some experienced a maiden voyage in their quest for gold, while others knew it was their last chance to finish a lifelong pursuit.

Each traveled a road unique to their abilities and their circumstance.

But if it were any shorter, it wouldn’t reach.

“Life is determined by inches and seconds,” my father once wrote. That truth surfaces each year with greater intensity. Our lives are altered, negatively and positively, by split seconds and fractional inches.

Had car “A” been one second later, it would not have demolished car “B” and killed three people, crippling two others for life.

“If my arm had been a half-inch longer, I could have reached the leaf-filled gutter without falling,” said the handyman husband lying strung up with hospital apparatus.

And in the Olympics, ask Michael Phelps and Dara Torres about their finger-tip finishes where hundredths of seconds separated gold from silver on the medal stand.

Beyond the statistics, though, we each develop our own travel style, again vividly apparent in the Olympic Games. Some athletes were flamboyant; others reserved. Some wore their joy on their sleeve while others focused so intently they looked plastic, detached from reality as they retreated into the comfort of their own preparation zone.

Some exuded a quiet confidence while others exhaled an obnoxious arrogance that polluted the pureness of competition. Yet, often that strategy backfired, taunting their competition into superhuman overdrive.

Trash talking, they call it. And although it can add drama to the journey, when private thoughts became public record, a new unsavory dimension of the sport emerges.

Negative one-liners can become the tagline behind an athlete’s name. Famous can become infamous. And the road grows a little longer from self-imposed potholes.

So how long is the road to the goals we have set for ourselves? Undoubtedly, inches and seconds will affect every bend and curve. And perhaps our travel style may make it longer than it has to be.

But rest assured, if it were any shorter, it wouldn’t reach.