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Swimming Upstream

Swimming upstream requires effort and tenacity

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Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, chancellor of Ambassador College until his death in 1986, often reminded the students that “any old dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a real live one to swim upstream.” His point was that in order to really succeed in life, we must be filled with enthusiasm and a “can do” attitude. And he was right. We have to realize that difficult challenges need to be met head on with vigor and all–out effort. Taking the line of least resistance and aiming only for comfort and convenience generates mediocrity at best. Avoiding the tough problems that inevitably will come our way—sometimes out of nowhere—will never lead to real and lasting success.

President Theodore Roosevelt understood living a life of overcoming hurdles and obstacles, of discovery and fulfillment on the way to excellence and achievement of great projects as individuals, families and as a nation. He championed the strenuous life, summed up in this famous quote: “I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”

In a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris, April 23, 1910, he said: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

It is a simple fact of life: anything worthwhile—with lasting value—requires exertion, effort and tenacity. Nothing precious or laudable comes easily. And discipline is a must!

We live in a relatively undisciplined society today. People want to do what they want to do, whenever they want to do it, without restrictions or restraints. This is called freedom by some, when in fact it is a formula for abject failure. In all fields of noble endeavor, discipline is an integral part of the equation if great and sterling results are to be realized. Music, art, athletics, architecture, engineering, science, education, agriculture—the list goes on, and they all require self–control.

These same principles guide happy, vibrant families going places and destined to do great things. In every successful family unit, there are leaders teaching and requiring hard work and sacrifice, and cultivating an eagerness to take on tough challenges which generate superior benefits when they are met with determination and unwavering strength of character.

The Bible has much to say about taking the hard road in life in order to do the right thing, no matter how rough the trip might be. If it is the right thing to do, it will be worth the trip in the end! Jesus Christ said: “Enter ye in at the strait [difficult] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matt. 7:13–14).

Sometimes we will encounter daunting obstacles and painful experiences. The difference between crowning success and abysmal failure is the grit to endure hardship and continue on—because it is right and worth the effort—instead of caving in and throwing in the towel. Rather than following the old axiom “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, those who are soft, crave comfort and settle for less, respond differently. When the going gets tough, they cut and run!

A great pioneer and frontiersman in American history, Davy Crockett, was a famous defender at the battle of the Alamo. His motto for life was: “Be always sure you’re right, then go ahead.” That is indeed a very wise and sturdy credo!

The key question is: Is it right? If it is, don’t quit, ever, come what may. Sir Winston Churchill, considered by many to be the man of his century, said this: “Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense” (Speech, 1941, Harrow School).

Perhaps you realize what it took to achieve such monumental breakthroughs as the Wright brothers’ first flight, Henry Ford’s first automobile and Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb. You may also have known people personally who rose above their plight in life, going on to establish an amazing legacy of merit and high achievement. I’ve had the distinct pleasure and inspiration of knowing several people of that timber and mettle.

One such individual was a young lady who, because of cancer, became blind in early childhood. As she blossomed into her teen years, she was determined not to let this limitation overwhelm or defeat her. She wanted to attend the local school even though she could not see like all of the other kids could.

Riding the same school bus to and from school, I got to know her well and we became friends. This special person figured out a way to walk from her house to board the school bus unaided. She learned how to negotiate the hallways of the school building, going from classroom to classroom by herself—no cane, no seeing–eye dog.

She sat at the front of each class, rapidly taking notes on her Braille pad so she could keep up with her homework. Come graduation time, she finished close to the top of her class and went on to earn college degrees, culminating in a PhD in education. She taught at a prestigious university and was later appointed Chair of a major department with tenure. All of this success was achieved by a totally blind woman surrounded by people with eyesight. Talk about swimming upstream! She had courage, discipline and a strong work ethic. Quitting was not in her vocabulary. She usually had a smile on her face as she eagerly embraced whatever was tossed her way, relishing the challenge and overcoming the barriers one after another, time after time. When I find myself in a situation that seems hopeless, with no way out, instead of capitulating and calling it quits, I often think of my blind friend, take a deep breath, set my sights on the objective and plunge ahead with gusto and renewed energy.

To live a life like that takes motivation. It takes settling on the right goal, coupled with balance, smarts, good counsel and setting a reasonable and realistic pace going forward. Those who are talkers rather than doers, and those who feel they are entitled at birth to a life of ease and consumption, will probably be jealous when you start to go places while they bog down into a pathetic existence of instant gratification and false hopes of getting something for nothing.

They could make a better choice. That choice involves doing the right thing instead of going along to get along. It is deciding to follow the admonition found in Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” That is the way of integrity, excellence and truth.

Rather than wallowing in self–pity and blaming others for their miserable lot in life, those with character and high aspirations think big! They take aim, like a laser beam, on what is possible when drive, determination and pluck are brought to bear in reaching a well–planned objective. Above all, they seek God’s help and strength. Because without Him, no one will ever rise to his ultimate potential. Then they go for it! They are like salmon swimming upstream through deadly currents, over rocks, up rapids and around floating logs and debris, until they finally reach peaceful clear waters to continue the cycle of life by giving new life to the next generation in safe spawning grounds.

So if you have set out to reach your full potential in life and you are prepared to do what it takes, guided by God’s Word, to achieve that end, then just remember what Mr. Armstrong said about swimming upstream and put it into practice. You’ll be in for an exhilarating journey with a mixture of thrills, trouble, pain and joy all along the way. But it won’t be boring and it won’t be a life of futility with opportunities lost and time merely squandered away. Rather your life will be replete with giving, serving, satisfaction, accomplishment, happiness, excitement and great success—if you don’t quit. If you never, never, never give in. Happy swimming!