When I was young and the summer was ending, my grandmother urged my brother Jack and me to go ginseng hunting with her in the nearby woods.
My grandmother grew up on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau in east Tennessee. Selling ginseng was a quick way of making some money to help carry the family through the winter.
Grandmother led us across the pasture to a north-facing ridge and we found her a comfortable piece of sandstone from which she directed our activities. By this time of year much of the underbrush had withered and died. Grandmother hollered encouragement to us, "Five leaves and look for the red berries." Well, in Ohio woods there are a lot of five-leaf plants such as Virginia creeper and others whose names I never learned. Each leaf we plucked and ferried back for Grandmother's inspection found its place discarded at her feet. We never found any ginseng.
As the years slipped by, this time of year often reminded me of those youthful and fruitless hunts. During my autumn hikes, I scanned the ridges for five leaves and red berries. I examined pictures in books to memorize the leaf configuration. With no results, my searches dwindled and finally stopped altogether.
The last week of August my daughter, Betsy, and grandson, Soren, were visiting us. As usual, I led them to the river while pointing out my various plants and wild animals. Soren tired more quickly than I had hoped (He is close to 3 years old) so we made our way back to the yard.
Prior to mounting the summit, I looked to my left and saw a plant with five leaves and a cluster of red berries. My heart jumped and I wondered to myself, "Could this be ginseng?" With so many identification failures, I lowered my hopes but said to Betsy, "That could be ginseng." I ran to my computer and did a Google image search on ginseng. There staring back at me was what seemed to be the exact same plant I had just seen on my hillside.
I ran back and soaked in the view. For more than 45 years I have had this image of ginseng in my mind. I assumed it was almost extinct in Ohio. But here on a hillside behind a housing development was certain proof that they existed. I searched further and found a couple of other plants although they were less hearty than my original find. I have no intention of digging any ginseng. I never did. I just want to watch it grow.
I think I learned from this experience that goals we set in any segment of our life become a part of us and in some ways guide our lives and actions. I have always believed in goals. I set lifelong goals when I was 12, education goals while I toiled in the coal mines for almost a decade, and business goals each year. These goals helped me get where I wanted to go. The goals you set today may help you achieve what you want a half century from now.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.