I’ve rarely traveled in a straight line, driven somewhere new without getting lost, or taken the traditional path to success, thereby running across amazingly unexpected people, places, and experiences along the way. Can you relate?
My home is just off along a road with 40 curves along a 10 mile stretch. Those curves are so much fun to navigate and offer astounding mountain views just around the bend. They’re a great symbol for a life lived on the edge.
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
This photo was taken just off the Appalachian Trail near Roan Mountain, TN. It was a breathtaking climb, rewarded by seasonal flaming azaleas tempered by the shadowy curves of our world’s oldest mountains. Can you imagine being one of the first inhabitants of this area to break a path to the top of the balds, drink from the ice-cold spring along the way, then clamber to the edge of the world and stand slack-jawed at Creation?
Once, I tutored a man who’d lived for many years in an African refugee camp. His nickname in the U.S. was “Forkpah” which he translated for me as “One clears the way for others”. A more familiar word used in the martial arts is “Sensei” which means “One who has gone before”. Also “Bodhisattva” in the Buddhist tradition “Beings who work for the enlightenment of all beings, not just themselves. They vow not to enter Nirvana until all beings enter Nirvana together.”
Whether it’s in a literally finding your way through the wilderness, passing down thousands of years of teachings, or reaching enlightenment; those who break a path in order to ease the way for others are heroes in my book. They have taken the road less traveled and come back to lead the way.
For decades, I’ve kept this quote in the back of my checkbook, to remind myself that my worth is not measured by my bank balance. That finding an unconventional way through life its offers own rewards. It has been widely attributed to Emerson, but turns out to have been penned by a woman named Bessie Stanley in 1905:
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
I would add “To travel a twisty, curvy path only to arrive at exactly the right spot”. As life changes, fortunes come and go, people drift in and out, it is ever so important to keep our personal values simple and clear. The challenge is in knowing when to slow down, to artfully navigate each curve in turn, and when to turn off the path altogether.
Think: How do you measure success? Who are the most successful people you know, and why? In what ways are you a pathfinder?
Say: Tell the story of one of your favorite adventures to a friend.
Do: Take the road less traveled. Or never before traveled.