Robert Frost wrote “The Road Less Taken” in 1916, and it has been lauded as the ultimate paean to following your own path. The reality of the poem is a little fuzzier, and Frost alluded quite a few times to the irony of regret for what’s on the other path. It’s easy to get caught up in what could have been. The regret for zigging when you might have zagged comes for all of us.
I write this sleep deprived, with a very busy day of client work and chores ahead, plus I have to drive to get my kids who have been with their grandparents for a few days. Last night I chose to spend time with a friend rather than cleaning the house and the bunny hutch like I was supposed to. I might regret that today when I am getting ready for company for dinner, but then again, I had a wonderful evening, and that too, is valuable. The vacuum will be there, waiting. Sometimes nachos and conversation is the right choice. Almost always, actually.
I wander off the path in life regularly. If someone asked me how I got to where I am today, the conversation would go something like “Well, I started out going over here, but then I stopped in this field of sunflowers for a picnic and found this other path so I went there, but that one was a bit to brambly so I tried this…”. I’m a huge fan of taking alternative paths to whatever destination you want to get to. I always have goals, but I never assume the bullet train is the best way to get there. Sometimes it’s on foot, stopping off to see the sights. It’s a complicated way to live, but somehow I always get where I want to go. From my messy, complicated, beautiful life I have learned a few things, often the hard way. There’s still so much more to learn, but these are the things I live by, when I don’t forget and lose perspective.
Don’t only spend time with people just like you
Most of us have community -friends, family, neighbors, colleagues that are just like us. Maybe they like hummus more than guacamole or watch basketball instead of action flicks, but commonality is the name of the game, be it lifestyle, kids activities, or politics. But it is from those that are different from me in culture, background, perspective and choices that I learn the most. There’s more than one way to live and experience the world, and seeing it through other’s eyes is going to make you a bigger, better person. Plus fun.
Comparing yourself to others is the worst thing you can do
It’s hard to avoid, I admit. It’s so easy to look at others who have more money, perfect outfits, perfect marriages, kids who eat their broccoli without an argument. They aren’t always fighting some secret bad thing either, maybe everything is really just good for them. But looking at other people’s assets and finding your own lacking is a quick way to feel bad and not much else. Set your goals, check your compass, and go towards what you need. You don’t actually want their life or their spouse or their broccoli anyway, you want your own version. Trust me. Your broccoli is just as good.
Navel-gazing is going to stop you from living
Self-introspection and awareness are important, but so is actually doing stuff. Don’t get so caught up in self-examination you forget what you are here for, which is is live, to build community, to add love and good things to the world, be that anything from bad puns to fostering kids to feeding the neighbor’s dog while they are away. Look up and out most of the time. I promise you will feel better about yourself and be surrounded by far more love and support as a result.
Exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk
I know, I know, you are busy, and when you aren’t, you are tired. I get it. I really do. Taking the time and effort to build in an exercise routine is hard, It isn’t always fun. But here’s the thing – you will feel better, look better, and you just might find your mind working better too. Those endorphins do eventually come, and when they do, they are awesome. We all have 15 or 30 minutes a few days a week. Use them.
Money is just money
Sure, having some is way better than not. But money as a sole scorecard of success is toxic, and culturally, it seems more and more like that’s the only measure that seems to matter. Money typically takes our life energy to accumulate, and our life energy is ultimately finite. Here’s my take – give away enough of your time to make what you need and a little on top. Know that if you lose some of your assets to job loss, divorce, illness, home repair….well, that’s not fun, but it’s not the end of the world either. Money is handy, but it is not the measure of a person or the value of your life, it is merely an exchange vehicle. Put it in it’s place, and your decisions around it will be cleaner and less emotionally charged, and chances are it may make you more generous overall.
If not you, who?
This is one of the hardest things I have learned. I always assumed that others were smarter, more creative, more competent than I was. It took a great deal of time to learn that my perspective, my creativity, and the way I think were something that no other person can mimic. If you are waiting for permission to write, do art, start a company, speak about your experiences, consider this permission to stop waiting.
There is more right with you than wrong with you
So go ahead, wear the pink kitty hat when you need to, screw what everyone else thinks.