Have you ever been super excited about the path you are on and the progress you are making, only to find something suddenly and unexpectedly blocking your path? Or even worse, you all of a sudden look around and are uncertain whether you are even ON the path anymore?
Saturday I decided to hike a new trail. This trail was reported to have an amazing waterfall, swimming holes and wildflowers galore. So I find the trailhead and start the path, only to quickly find myself dumped out onto a busy road. Well, that wasn’t the hiking experience I was going for – so I circled back, rechecked the map, and still ended up in the same place. Finally deciding to walk up the road, I found the re-entrance onto the hiking path with a great, convenient parking area versus the side of the road where I’d parked. But OK, right, at least now I’m on the path.
How often does this happen to us, that we barely get started when we find ourselves somewhere completely not where we intended, and we’re disappointed about it? After FINALLY figuring it out, we then see a really obvious way we could have gone about it.
Moving along, I was enjoying hiking past the creek and the scenery when I dead-ended into a deep portion of the creek. Unsure where to go, I scoured the bank on the other side to see if the trail picked up there. As I circled around to search, most of the people I saw were floating in the creek, playing with children and dogs or even barbecuing. (You know you’re in Texas when people hike in with their BBQ grills.) It only aggravated me more that everyone else was enjoying doing exactly what they intended as I was confused on where to go next. I mean, it can’t be this hard, right?
Looking back, I can see many points in my life (including today) where everyone else seemed content with what they were doing while I was searching and discontented, looking for a path. At times I’ve even judged them, thinking, “Well they just don’t care about having a path like I do” – not realizing that I have no idea what their path is and where they are on it. Perhaps they are in a place on their journey where they have mastered contentment.
Finally, I noticed some other people dressed for hiking and decided to follow them. They must know where they are going, right? And they did! They followed an overgrown path that quickly made a turn and opened up into “the path.”
There is A LOT of advice about following others and how you should find your own path. However, following others isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes others have been down the road you are traveling and can help you navigate. That doesn’t mean you are “following their path,” you are just following them on this small portion of YOUR path. As we look to colleagues, let’s remember that it’s OK to follow, so long as you aren’t following their path. Your paths may intersect and even parallel for a while, and that’s OK. Don’t make things harder than they need to be if someone has been down this portion of your path before and can help you navigate.
As I continued, I still lost the path several times, but I learned not to get frustrated or beat myself up. I made myself explore overgrown areas to see if they opened up into a path, to look ahead past watering holes and rock formations to see what lay beyond. Sometimes I had to climb up and look, or climb down and look. At two points, trees had fallen and blocked the trail. But the path continued; all I had to do was climb over or under the obstacles. Sometimes people were there to help, and sometimes I did it alone. In places the water level was high after recent rains, so again, the path wasn’t so obvious. But the path is always there, because it’s your path. Whether it’s a well-traveled, already mapped trail or a new trail you’re blazing, the path is there because you are there.
I learned to use the moments when I was searching for the next part of the path to refuel with water and snack and rest. I learned that having to circle back and change directions wasn’t failing, it was simply exploring and trying a path, then deciding whether I wanted to continue or not. And I learned that sometimes the path looked completely different, simply due to recent rains or other circumstances. I discovered how to consider the current situation, without letting it define the path.
So today, as I’m finding my company seemingly blocked, or stuck, in certain areas, and circling back in others, and forging ahead in still others, I’m realizing that IS the path, and there is learning in each step of it. What serves me in each step are the tools and the learning I have and am gaining. It’s what is in my head and in my backpack that gives me the resources to not only navigate the path, but to enjoy the process of figuring it out.
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By Laney Lyons-Richardson