One of my goals for today’s Sunday nine-mile run, besides a good workout, was to figure out what to write my Regional Report on. In fact, I spent the previous week thinking about it. Sometimes a grand idea pops into my head early, however, for the same reason my Christmas letters are generally sent out mid-January, those inspirational ideas are few and far between.

This morning’s run was uneventful. I actually felt quite weak. I just returned from South America and I was in such a rush to get to the bathroom on the way home I didn’t even have time to stop and kiss my wife. Even after a week I wasn’t full strength.

About halfway through my loop, I was heading up a long uphill grade as three walkers were coming down hill. As I passed, one of them spoke up “It’s a whole lot easier going downhill.”

I instinctively and competitively answered “I prefer to go up.” And I was off and running with my Regional Report…

Although most would think I was talking out of defiance or sarcasm, it is true for many reasons that I prefer to run uphill rather than downhill. First, at my age, I know for no other reason someone should be running than to get a good workout. Secondly, it is terribly hard on the knees and joints to run downhill – especially at my age. And last, and most importantly, running downhill gives me nothing to conquer.

It is true in life and the flower business that running downhill is easier. But by setting goals and working hard to reach the top, your business will be more successful. When things go wrong, sometimes we are tossed to the bottom and we have no choice but to work our way uphill. Other times, we voluntarily work uphill to make things better

I have a confession to make. This past year I was involuntarily treading uphill most of the way. I didn’t have even a flat section to regain my strength. In the summer of 2004, an employee of mine made a mistake that wiped out over half of my calla lily breeding stock. Those of you who have purchased calla lilies know how expensive that is. So the bulbs I would have been selling in the spring of 2005 to finance my business until flowering season were wiped out. My available cash for spring expenses were cut to less than 50% of normal. My legs were cramped most of the way, but what choice did I have but to continue upwards?

Back in high school I ran a cross country race at Silver Creek Falls in Silverton, Oregon. Before most races, you generally walk the course so you know where you’re going during the event. This course was different. We walked half the course and had to speculate about the rest. There was no sense in walking up that hill before the race. We wouldn’t have anything left for the race. So during the race my brother and I were leading and we started up this hill. It just kept going and going, and going—and very steep too.

Just about the time you felt like you couldn’t go any longer and had to stop running and start walking, there was a handmade sign clearly posted on a tree that showed a map of a mountain. There was a star near the bottom of the mountain that said “You are here.” Wow, just about the time you were earnestly looking around each bend for some relief, you were dealt with the fact that you may just be beginning.

In fact, the sign was a prank and after a few more bends we had conquered the hill. We were told after the race that in 13 years of the event, my brother and I were the first ones to ever run the whole way up the hill without stopping to walk. I sure wish someone would have told me that before the race—it would have been a lot easier to quit early.

I did survive 2005. In fact, in storage I have the best bulb crop I’ve ever had. Ultimately, I was growing too quickly and began to coast and wander from the path that had made me successful growing callas. I had hit bottom and had to reevaluate my business. I had to get back to the basics. Trials such as this will happen. It is important to learn from them and persevere through them. In the end, this perseverance will build up stronger.

As we surpass the New Year, I think it is wise for all of us to set goals and define how we plan on reaching them. It is good to set one-year goals, five-year goals, and long-term goals. Then list beside them what it will take to reach those goals. Without a clear vision of the top, it will be difficult to reach the top. Give yourself a mountain to climb!

Have you ever heard the expression that once you fail to go forward you’re really heading backwards? It is nice to coast downhill for a time to rest up, but eventually if you don’t find a path that goes upward, you may find that you’ll be in such a deep valley that it will simply be too steep to climb. Don’t be discouraged when you get tired and look back, but rather keep your sight set on the top.

So I encourage all of you to put on your jogging shoes and sprint up the first hill you can find!