Sometimes there seems to be thousands of them: ‘right’ ones, ‘wrong’ ones, socially-sanctioned ones, ‘crazy’ ones, fabulous ones, fruitless ones, loop roads and dead ends.
Other times, it seems there are only a few to pick from.
Yet, even if there are only two options, you still have an important choice to make about the direction to take your life in.
This excerpt from Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Not Taken captures this beautifully:
…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(you can hear him read the entire poem here).
So what about you? What might make all the difference to your life’s direction?
When it comes to picking your path, how do you actually go about making that choice?
Standing at the crossroads of any major decision, what helps you know which road might be the ‘right’ one for you?
What about scaling things back to some slightly smaller decisions you’ve made in the past? How did you manage those?
Did you feel them in your gut?
Did you list the pros and cons in your head?
Did you consult with other people first (and does that tend to clarify things or add to the confusion for you?)
Or did you wonder about the repercussions of bending social norms?
Did your values act as a kind of inner compass?
These can be useful questions, because getting to know what already works for you in the smaller things can sometimes help you face the big decisions with more clarity. (And it’s a technique that solution-focused therapy often draws on).
Do you find it tempting to pick the road more traveled by? To follow the crowd down a well-worn path because society or your family or even you think you ‘should’?
Sometimes it’s challenging to think of taking a road less traveled, even if it feels like your road, simply because it’s a little lonelier there…
It can be disconcerting to branch out on that unknown path, especially when others don’t ‘get it’, or if they think it’ll lead to nowhere. Frightening. And even more so at those times when we don’t really understand exactly why we actually want to travel down this way ourselves – except that some internal voice is drawing us to it or telling us that the other paths just wouldn’t fit somehow.
But think for a moment what it might feel like if you always took the ‘sensible’ path instead; the ‘proper’ path; the path that someone else (or even seemingly everyone else) might prefer you to take … the highway versus the meandering track… Project forward for a moment, and think about getting towards the end of that road, the end of your life, knowing that you never really saw what that other, less traveled way might have been like. What kind of destination would that leave you at?
Perhaps the less-traveled-by track might have important places to take you. And even if they’re places that only you alone can reach – that only you will truly understand – perhaps the journey need not feel entirely lonely.
For, as Daniel Johnston (a ‘pilgrim of indie music’ who knows a thing or two about walking unique lines) sang:
And beyond that, maybe there’s a certain sort of company to be had even just knowing that somewhere out there, in another part of the woods, there might be others who are also forging their own way and choosing a path less known.
So that, even in the loneliest or toughest of times, perhaps you can still belong to a community of sorts… a tribe of wayfarers; pathfinders; pioneering spirits who are blazing a trail according to what really matters to them.
And what really matters to you.
Whichever path you choose, may the road rise to meet you…
Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy, the author of a private practice blog, and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.