Follow Your Own Path
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost
One of the things that has always attracted me to social media is that it allows me to get a glimpse into other peoples’ lives. Reading blogs like In Over Your Head from Julien Smith, or Levite Chronicles from Jon Swanson gives me a snapshot into what someone else is thinking at that moment. Following people on Twitter like Christopher Penn and Danny Brown provides a stream of real time thoughts, feelings and inspiration. Facebook allows me to instantly answer the question “What ever happened to…?” as I pick up where I left off with friends from over the years.
We are more connected to each others’ thoughts and feelings than we have ever been. We can literally follow along as people go about their daily lives, but more than that, in an instant, we can become involved in the story. All it takes is one comment, one reply, or one small note to open up doors we never thought possible.
Thinking of how we’ve intertwined our lives thrills me. I am close friends with people I never thought I’d have an opportunity to meet. I’m doing business with people all over the world, many of whom I’ve never met in person. We’re bonded together, with some sort of technological epoxy, and that bond is not easily broken.
But an issue starts to occur when that bond becomes too significant. We begin to pay too much attention to everyone elses’ life and we start to forget our own focus. We look at all the brilliant people around us, and we start to compare ourselves to them. “Is this blog post going to measure up?”, “Am I saying the right things?”, “Am I the next [name of favourite social media guru]?”
I learn so much from my friends out here in this world. Every day I’m given new things to think about, new ways to expand my business, my career, my spirit. But the minute I start to get too wrapped up in other peoples’ thoughts and opinions, I need to take a step back. I need to get re-focused on my own path. I’ve got to check in with myself every now and again to see where I am on my path.
It’s important to have mentors, it really is. I’ve had some dandy ones, and I still do. Everyone needs people to look up to and learn about success, and failure, and everything in between. It’s all fine and well to be inspired by someone’s achievements, but never, ever, EVER aspire to be “just like” anyone. Look around you. See those people who are succeeding the way you want to? You can have that too. But you can’t do it the same way they did. Why? Because everyone’s path is different.
Let’s say your dream is to be the CEO of your own successful company. You see someone you know doing this and you want it too; he’s building his company, getting lots of clients, speaking all over the country, and starting to rake in the dough. You begin to study how that person got there, and you start to realize a few things. First, his spouse has a really good full time job, and they were able to afford to be a one-income household for a while. Second, they don’t have kids to feed. Third, he’s got an investor on board who has put forward a good chunk of change to get things moving.
But you’re a single mom, with big rent and big bills and you absolutely can’t afford to give up your day job. You don’t have any investors, and don’t have the time or the money to travel around to try and get some, either. Suddenly your dream of having your own company starts to fade. You go back to life as you know it.
And that is where the problem lies. We spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to others. If you want to be the CEO of your own successful company, it doesn’t matter HOW you get there. What’s important is that you get there.
We all travel our own path in this life. Our lives intersect with others, sometimes very deeply, as with our family, our spouses, our friends, and our mentors. But in the end, it’s just you. You are the one who has to get out of bed every morning and decide what you’re going to do with your life. You are the one who knows your circumstances better than anyone, and you are the only one who can decide what step to take next. Oh sure, you can ask advice from those close to you, you can read and learn and share and ask questions. But it’s you, and only you, that has to make the decision.
Lots of single moms with little time and less income become successful businesspeople. They do it because they figure out how to succeed in spite of their circumstances. They don’t compare themselves to others. They listen, and learn, and absorb information. But then they make decisions based on what they know deep down inside.
We only get one shot at this life. One shot. If we spend all our time living through other people, trying to be just like everyone else, then we’re going to wind up on our death bed wondering why we never accomplished much. You can’t achieve anything on someone else’s hand. You get the hand you’re dealt. You must play it. So stop trying to live everyone else’s life, and start living your own.
Go on, then…what are you waiting for?
Photo credit: John-Morgan on Flickr
Great thoughts as always, Sue.
I find myself coming at this from a different direction. I’m still not entirely sure what my ultimate goal is, at least from a career perspective. I’ve got a general path in mind but I’ve never been good at answering the “where do you see yourself in ten years” question.
What matters more to me is the other stuff. Family. Friends. Hobbies. I went and married my best friend, surrounded myself with awesome people and let the chips fall where they may. In a few weeks I’ll be a father (something I’ve always looked forward to), I’ve got a great and lovable dog, I coach hockey (well, not this year), curl and play a bit of golf… I’m happy with life.
That’s not to say I’m not thinking about my career. It’s just not what defines me. I’m sure one day I’ll have a more clear direction but for now I’m chasing interesting opportunities as they come and building a good breadth of experience in the general areas that interest me.
My best man told a great story on my wedding day; something I’d totally forgotten. When we lived together during university, we’d often have a few drinks and lounge around our living room, talking about our plans etc. He said he remembered me saying that all I really wanted out of life was to come home from coaching kids hockey (at the time I probably assumed it was my own kids), kiss my wife and flop on the couch with my dog.
Then, a few years after that (and a year or so before the wedding), he and his partner were staying with Amy and I when they were up from Toronto for our engagement party. I left the house early to coach hockey, then came home, kissed my fiancee and flopped on the couch with my dog. He said it struck him that I got just what I wanted.
welcome back, Sue.
You picked a great focus, too. When the ambient becomes what we are attending to, we are in trouble. I need to actually be doing something other than watching what everyone is doing, otherwise I bring no value to anyone else.
Wow, this touches on so many things I am not sure where to begin. I’ll make a list.. that what you usually tell me to do 🙂
1. Beware of the opinions of others: Lou Holtz tells us that he is the only man that ever wrote more books than he read. Personally, I have always been this way myself. While I value the opinions of others I am always aware of my own goals and even more so my values. (I do not mean this to sound selfish)
2. Intentions: I believe your intentions must be clear to move forward with anything. Joe, in his first comment related this article to success in career while I relate it to overall success. Overall success to me is about not dying with my music left in me. I would say Joe’s music is in family and being able to explore his passions. Good for Joe! Remember you are where you are because of the things that you think, For better or for worse.
3. There is no beginning and no end: Sure you can create goals that have a beginning middle and end, but time is an illusion. Real success comes in how you conduct yourself in each moment, not how much money they bury you with.
Sue, thank you for writing this. I am really enlivened right now to carry forward. Sometimes we need a little reminding.
I enjoyed reading this post because of its elemental truth. As a career coach, now facilitating true calling events, it’s essential that I present plenty of options for folks because you nailed it. Everyone’s path is different as are their circumstances. So in finding our own path each of us must also do it in our own way. I used to think that methods produced results. Not anymore. Ten folks can use the same method and get wildly varying results. That’s why we also have to pay attention to the energy we have for what we are doing. I’ve learned that everything counts, not just what we do.