Here is the context for what I am going to talk about. Within the conversation of “Now What?” there occurs, for me, that we often reach a point in our life where we are present to choices. These choices come in a variety of flavors: familiar ones that we might like or not like, suggested ones from our family and friends and some choices we can feel, but cannot yet see or hear.
We have been making choices for as long as we can remember, but when our choices became about what are we going to do with our life, the consequences of those choices became very important, like we better not make any mistakes or we need to make the right choice. For many of us, we just got on the train of life where all the stops were planned for us and we kept on going. Some of us, got on “the fast track” and for others, there might not have been any choices we really wanted or the choices were for other people, but not someone like me.
For me, I got on the train to college, where I was going to be pre-med, go to medical school and then become a doctor. I had had this plan since I was very little, so I chose a school with a good pre-med program and got going. In fact, I chose a hard school just because the principal said, you will never get in there. A few hectic months later, it’s fall semester of my freshman year and I am enrolled in chemistry 101, calculus and a psychology course called Personality Development. After two days of classes, not understanding a single word in the classroom, I opened the books to see what this stuff was about and understood nothing. I liked foreign languages, but these languages were really foreign. Did I get on the wrong train? I think I’ve made a very big mistake!
It took two years of pain for me to raise the white flag and get off the pre-med train. I resisted giving up because I had not ever thought of what else I would do. There were others I knew who were in the Business School at the same university and that seemed like a better choice for me because the language would be familiar and the concepts made sense. What am I going to do in business? I’ll figure that out later. All Aboooaaard!
I needed a counselor, a coach to talk to about, “what am I supposed to do with my life,” but asking for help was not my forte. If there had been a reset button, I might have pushed it, but I didn’t know how to get off the train and getting off would have looked like failing. I looked like everyone else, they seemed to know where they were going and I just needed to do the same.
When we are in the middle of it, we can’t see the barriers we have constructed and we cannot see what is common in all the things we are attracted to doing. We are in some sort of confinement and we don’t know it. I could not see, until just recently that wanting to be a doctor, a veterinarian, a financial advisor or a kindergarten teacher was really about taking care of others through teaching and wanting to understand. I had read the James Herriot books like All Things Bright and Beautiful as a young boy and those stories resonated within me and had a big impact on how I viewed the world, and somehow I completely forgot or just ignored what I had felt. In truth, I never told anyone how I felt and that is how I missed the train.
When I think about Now What?, I think about how choices show up for us and hopefully, when these choices show up, we are paying attention. This thinking reminds me of Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken.
The Road Not Taken BY ROBERT FROST
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.
Frost’s poem presents us with a somewhat simple choice: This one or that one. The roads, the train tracks were already there, with different markers for determining the better. All we had to do was choose. It is interesting that there are only two roads and we automatically think of one on the left and one of the right. Yes? If there had been three roads, we might have found a rock to sit on to really think about it.
This may have already occurred to you: but what if he had chosen a different way, blazed a new trail, not gotten on one of the trains? What if he had not chosen one of the path’s of least resistance, one of the customary paths to travel already laid out for him? Path of least resistance, you wonder? If the path is already there, then you don’t need a machete to clear a trail, you can just, like, go. Water does this very successfully, it always flows downhill or towards the lowest point within an area. Likewise, we could just go with the flow.
My friend seems to always talk about things being hard or it is going to be hard. I am always wondering why she just doesn’t do it the easy way, the way I see it being more predictable. I hear the word hard and I either want to avoid the conversation or work to solve a problem the same way I solved it before. Can’t you hear me repeating the cliches, “we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” or “we’ve done that a hundred times before!” But recently, I have started to think that maybe she has the right idea. Maybe when we chose the “harder” path, blaze a new trail, it may seem hard at first, because the path is less predictable, the people around us are doubtful and the whispers of “this is not it’s” telling us to turn back. However, this “harder path” may be the path our heart wants us to follow.
If we just follow what the discourses tell us to do, that is, follow the road maps or tracks already in place, then there is so much less work to do. There might be fewer surprises and life could be fairly predictable. Doesn’t that sound like following the path of least resistance? What if you set out to have an extraordinary life, a life of your design, a life you could not have imagined possible? What would that look like? Most likely you will face resistance because people around you will have a reaction to what you want to do, if it doesn’t follow their road maps. We could look at this as being similar to inertia, where “inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion including changes to its speed and direction or state of rest. It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity.”
We will experience resistance from those who want to keep things the way they are, for us to follow a predictable path or maintain the status quo. This resistance might look like silence, anger, asking us for more time or just about anything to keep things the way they are. Don’t rock the boat! Resistance could have us turn back, have us not trust ourselves, have us think we are the jerk and maybe just let that wonderful idea just slip away. But (you knew there was a but), when we find something big enough, something that we have always dreamed of, something that just must be done, even when it is daunting, then being with inertia is just what we do; it is not personal, we are just asking ourselves for more.
If you have not seen the movie Moneyball, I highly recommend it. Moneyball is about The Road Not Taken, blazing a new trail and being with tremendous resistance when you want to do something different. In the movie, the then owner of the Oakland A’s, Stephen Schott tells Billy Beane, the General Manager of his team there is only so much money to rebuild the team and that amount of money puts the team at a severe disadvantage to successfully compete with other American League teams. At the beginning Beane’s choices are limited, he can see the barriers, he hears the usual ways to build a team, solve the problem the way we always have and the team’s future looks like last place to him, which is unacceptable given what he wants. What is important to Billy is not just putting a team together to play baseball, instead he wants a team that can win the last game of the season; the last game of the world series.
For Billy Beane, there are no easy choices, there are just the usual paths of least resistance and they won’t produce the result he wants. What eventually shows up is a new way to solve the problem, the solution to winning baseball games, a solution for just scoring more runs. That seems so obvious, but the then current model in baseball was not about scoring runs, rather it is about having big name players to fill up expensive stadiums, make fans happy and of course build a more valuable franchise.
I will try to not ruin the movie for you, but here is the punch line. Near the end of the movie Billy Beane has accepted a meeting with John Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox to talk about being his new General Manager. Billy Beane has altered the path of building a team and almost pulled off a World Series championship. In his pitch to Billy Beane, John Henry says, “I know you are taking it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall always gets bloodied. Always.” The doubters and detractors were still talking about how the A’s failed to win the World Series and they had already forgotten about the A’s setting a record for winning 20 games in a row. But a few, like John Henry, knew they were now looking down a new road, a road with only a few signs to follow because someone had blazed a new path.
Funny thing is that Billy Beane had already forgotten he had achieved something extraordinary, something no one else thought was possible because he had not achieved what he set out to do; win the last game of the year. Just like the really big baseball player, in the film, that hits a home run and is so happy that he made contact with the ball that he stumbles and falls before reaching first base, never seeing the ball sail over the fence. Neither of these people knew they had achieved something very rare, until someone else showed them. Like I said before, you need to see the movie; like tomorrow!
There were no easy choices, no paths of least resistance for Beane to follow, but he stuck with it and when he did, a new road was seen and maybe the old familiar roads were now the ones less often taken. The point I am making is when we feel the pressure to get on the train and follow the crowd, this is the moment to ask some questions, ask for help, ask yourself for more than just doing what everyone else is doing. Dreams were created for us to choose from a long time ago, spending sometime thinking about what is important to you might allow you to choose a dream of your choosing.