Shortcuts to success may miss the mark

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

The story is a classic.

The winter winds had stripped the trees of their foliage while a melting snow frosted the rest of the landscape. A young artist searched for a good location to ply his art, hoping to capture nature’s majesty on canvas.

As he walked through the woods, he noticed dozens of trees with circles drawn on them and bullet holes precisely in the center of each circle.

“This must be some kind of marksman,” he whispered to himself. “He hasn’t missed the bull’s-eye yet!”

About that time he spotted a young mountaineer with a gun. “Are you the one shooting holes in the trees?” he asked.

“Yep,” replied the lad as he sat down and leaned against a tree.

“How do you do it? You haven’t missed the center of a circle yet.”

“Nothing to it,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a piece of chalk. “I just shoot the hole then draw the circle around it.”

We smile at the antics of the young mountaineer — and then perhaps wonder about his motives.

Was he trying to impress others — while kidding himself? Or just too lazy to practice his marksmanship?

It’s certainly more efficient to shoot and draw a circle. But where is the sport in that effort?

It reminds me of the time I tried to explain putt-putt golf to my 5-year-old friend.

“The object of the game,” I instructed, “is to get the golf ball in the hole.”

He looked at the ball on the ground and then sized up the hole at the end of the turf.

“Oh, that’s easy, Aunt Becky,” he said.

And he promptly put down his putter, picked up the ball, walked to the hole, and dropped it in.

“See, what’s so hard about that?” he asked.

We may chuckle at his simple honesty, but also note how easy it could be to wipe out an entire sport with short cuts.

Just like our bull’s-eye buddy.

But perhaps our young marksman’s motives were a bit more complex. Perhaps he was a perfectionist, afraid of risking an off-center shot. He played it safe, focusing on the result rather than the skill needed to achieve it.

In short, he cheated.

At a recent wrestling match, one of my son’s teammates was behind in the score. I overheard his mom remind his 9-year-old little sister to pay attention to her brother’s match.

“But, Mom,” she cried. “He’s losing!”

“Oh no, honey,” the mother corrected. “He’s not losing, he’s learning.”

And so he did. As the day progressed, so did his experience, skills and success on the mat.

Result-driven living, where we “shoot first, then draw the circle,” short-cuts the process that makes us a true marksman. When we omit hard work, discipline and the opportunity to learn, we set ourselves up for empty accomplishments.

We “arrive,” as my father used to say, without ever knowing the beauty (and fulfillment) of making the trip.