“Are–are–are you,” panted Shasta. “Are you King Lune of Archenland?”

The old man shook his head. “No,” he replied in a quiet voice, “I am the Hermit of the Southern March. And now, my son, waste no time on questions, but obey. This damsel is wounded. Your horses are spent. Rabadash [the villain] is at this moment finding a ford over the Winding Arrow. If you run now, without a moment’s rest, you will still be in time to warn King Lune.”

Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.

C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy, 155.

In this scene from C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, Shasta (the boy the story is about) thought he had just arrived safely at the end of his very difficult journey. His mission is to warn King Lune that a hostile prince (Rabadash) is approaching with 200 men and bad intentions. After a long and terrifying journey, Shasta arrives at the Hermit’s only to be told that there would be no rest and that he would immediately need to go on another stage. This time, without his horse.

Have you experienced something similar? The precipitous disappointment? The crushing feelings of unfairness–even cruelty–of the next assignment? I experienced it more times than I can remember when I served as a staff nurse working in surgery. Then, as a supervisor, I had to be the old “Hermit of the Southern March” sending my best and brightest staff into another assignment when they were fully expecting that the hardest part of their day was over.

Look carefully at the end of the quote. The reward is more work. Notice how Lewis stacks adjectives for the next deed: “another” (so disappointing when you were hoping desperately for rest), “harder” (enter in the feelings of unfairness, victimhood, self-pity, anger), and “better.” Better? How can it be better? That word comes in as a surprise, doesn’t it? “Better” necessitates the long view of perspective–the lesson that “Shasta had not yet learned.”

“Better” means leveling up. Better means that people will trust you with more. Better means that the harder work will be more rewarding, more satisfying, more important to your own development and the good of the people around you. It may take years before this perspective develops. The important thing in the moment is to respond like Shasta:

But all he said out loud was:

“Where is the King?”

The Hermit turned and pointed with his staff. “Look,” he said. “There is another gate, right opposite to the one you entered by. Open it and go straight ahead: always straight ahead, over level or steep, over smooth or rough, over dry or wet. I know by my art that you will find King Lune straight ahead. But run, run: always run.”

Shasta nodded his head, ran to the northern gate and disappeared beyond it.

Lewis, Ibid., 156.