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In Search for Gold: Fencing, Success, and Perspective

“Sometimes you lose more than you win. It’s about handling losses and trying to turn them into positives. You get out into the big leagues and there’s a period of adjustment to be made.  You’ve got to handle it.”

— Lindsay Davenport

One of my favorite poems growing up (I did a lot of reading) was Robert Frost’s, “Peck of Gold”.  It’s an obscure little piece of writing that most people have never read.  But I always loved the imagery and never understood why, until I began working with our fencing students.  

In “Peck of Gold,” Robert Frost recalls his childhood in dusty San Francisco, using the dust as a symbol of both the historic Gold Rush and childhood innocence. 

Early gold prospectors in California could easily find gold flakes and nuggets in the gravel beds because the gold was concentrated there. They could either pick up the gold by hand or use a simple method called “panning” to collect gold from rivers and streams.  People from all over the country (and world) flocked to California due to the myth of streets being filled with gold.  However, once the easy pickings were gone, only those with the resources and temperament to mine for gold ever made any real riches.   

The poem describes how adults convinced their children that the dust was actually gold, a reflection of California’s Gold Rush history. This conflation of dust and gold illustrates how children can see negative things as positive, much like how people initially viewed the Gold Rush with excitement before facing reality and moving on.

It’s often the same way in our everyday life.  We see the easy opportunities and get lulled into a false sense that the road will be easy to travel—until all the gold dries up.  Then, there are no nuggets on the ground.  

Isn’t this a common occurrence in our daily lives as adults? We often spot convenient chances, gain the quick wins, and start believing that the journey will be straightforward. However, at some point, these opportunities disappear, and we can’t find any more. The gold dries up; there are no more nuggets on the ground.  We may start feeling like we’re not making the same progress as others or as we expected. This can lead to self-doubt and frustration. We may begin to second-guess our choices and contemplate whether we should quit our pursuit of success.

Now, I could write a lot about the need to pause and take a breath, set small goals, cheer for your progress, stay on track, and keep going. These are all vital things. However, they’re not the central theme of this poem.

Frost emphasizes that success depends on how you see it. Just as people had to face reality and explore new opportunities when they realized California’s hills weren’t endlessly rich, Frost and the children had to acknowledge that the dust wasn’t gold and seek other ways to improve their lives and meet their needs. Frost’s skillful use of language and imagery serves as a vivid reminder that true happiness is not always found in the ultimate achievement but in the journey, relationships, and experiences we accumulate along the way.

So whatever dream you pursue, enjoy the pursuit.  Success is often a matter of perspective. So seek your gold along the way, in the challenges, the dust, rather than solely in the achievement itself.

Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose. Lyndon B. Johnson

We should never focus on what we cannot control.  We should control what we can focus on. Dwain Kent

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