Pick a Path and Make it YOURS

When you set out on a bike ride, you may get out elaborate maps, check for construction updates, and chart an exact path from beginning to end. Or, you may hop on your bike and start riding. There are benefits to both approaches. However, if you choose to just start riding, you may have a great ride, but you’ll never get anywhere.

I’m currently taking an ice skating class at the university. On the first day of class, one girl in a thick Australian accent asked “is this class actually going to go the whole time because I have a friend’s 18th birthday party tonight and it’s going to be awesome!” My old, graduated mom self said “oh, kids!” I later found out that this “kid” was, in fact, in her thirties and older than me. I asked what she was studying and what brought her to Alaska. She said: “I don’t know what I’m studying. I went to university right after school, but I didn’t like it, so I dropped out. I tried working for awhile, but I never found a job I liked, so I decided to go back to school because it was more fun. I just randomly decided to do a semester in Alaska [from Australia] to go skiing, but I didn’t really plan ahead. I didn’t have any money when I came over, so I can’t afford a lift ticket.”

Pick a Path

This girl was in her thirties. She sounded like she had legitimately enjoyed her journey so far, but she also hadn’t gotten anywhere. She was still just riding around. She had no degree, no consistent job experience, no money in the bank, and no destination in mind. This may be an extreme example, but many of us are aimless. We’re just riding along to enjoy the ride. It’s easier to just hop on a bike and go, but do you know where you end up going? The path of least resistance. If you got on your bike right now and started riding around for fun, you would avoid the hills. We only go up the hills because we have a destination in mind. The same goes for our financial journey or the ultimate path of our life. If we just go along, we will only do the things that are easy. What keeps us from deciding a destination? The fact that once we pick where we’re going, we have to accept there will be hills for us to climb.

If you just start riding, you may end up going downhill, which is fun. But then you’re stuck at the bottom of somewhere and the only way to get back out is to ride up. At some point, all paths lead back uphill. When you arrive at this location from following the path of least resistance, these hills make you angry. “I didn’t plan for this. I just wanted a fun ride! These hills came out of nowhere.” This can debilitate us because we have to go up a hill, but we’ve never had to make a hard choice, so we don’t know which hill to climb. And it’s easy to stay at the bottom and just not move. When we choose a path and mark the hills we’ll face along the way, we are able to approach the hills with momentum and determination. “If I make it up this hill, I’ll be that much closer to my destination!” Yes, unexpected hills or obstacles can still occur on the path we’ve chosen, but getting past them is just part of the journey to the end goal instead of a complete blockade.

If you ascribe to the Hawaiian proverb: “The unaimed arrow never misses,” you’ll never experience a bulls-eye. Pick a path.

Make it YOUR Path

So now we agree that the girl in my ice skating class should pick a path. But I’m going to guess that she’s not looking at me (graduate degree, part-time job from home, married, 3 kids, living in Alaska) thinking “I wish I lived that life.” Everyone’s ideal path is different, and that is good. We are individuals, so we should not all follow the same path.

The first thing that happens when we pick a path, is that we pick the most popular one. We throw ourselves into the herd and just start moving with them. This is the path society determines is the “right” path. Graduate from high school. Go to college. Get a job. Get married. Maybe have kids. Buy a house. Buy a bigger house. Get promoted. Earn a big title. Retire at 65. This path is not bad. Being on this path is better than being on no path at all. And maybe you have really examined the map and determined that this path is really the one you want to be on. If that is the case, excellent! You’ve found your path.

At some point, you need to be the one to pull out the map and look at all the options. Where do you want to be at 65? What do you want to have accomplished by then? If we place our destination time at 65 and fill in the path there, we’ll see which route hits the things we want to see before we get there. At 65, are you happy to be walking away from employment for the first time in 30+ years? Or do you wish you spent the last 20 of it traveling? Do you hope to have started your own business? Where is your family at? Did you do the things with them you hoped you would?

Mr. T and I started on this path and thought it was the right one for us. But we realized we weren’t pushing ourselves. The hills took a really long time to get over because we didn’t really care about the destination. We even picked out a bigger house and started saving up money to buy it, but it didn’t motivate us. We stagnated. Once we sat down and had a real conversation about what the most important things were in our lives and picked a path that led us to the destination WE picked, we were excited again and ready to tackle those hills head on.

If you don’t pick the path that excites you, the ride will be long and hard and you’ll struggle to enjoy it. If your destination isn’t enough to get you on that bike and pedaling hard every day, then you’re not on the right path.

It’s Okay to Change Paths

Never think that there is only one way to your destination or that you have to keep your original plans the entire way. The chances of that actually happening are very slim. You could realize one day that you don’t want to go where your path takes you. We did. And we quickly pulled the map back out and rerouted ourselves.

Maybe the path that seemed perfect is actually completely washed out and impassable. Life happens hard. Priorities can change. You are not forced to stay on any path. But make sure when you hit the “road closed” sign that you pull the map out and make other choices. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself back on the path of least resistance and you’re back to never ending up anywhere.

This journey is yours. You get to decide what’s important, where you want to end up, and which route you want to take to get there. But the first step in getting anywhere is deciding where it is YOU want to go. Make sure your path is the one that you decided and make sure that you’re being honest with yourself about if it’s really the one you want to take. If you’re not excited for the ride ahead, it’s time to recalculate the destination.Β 

Pick A Path

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20 Comments

  1. B

    I really like this post because it gives a narrative of story that links back nicely to where i am at right now in terms of investing. The path is not a sacred destination but proceed a life filled with objectives and suddenly you find a whole true meaning to it.

    Great article.

  2. Mr. Mad Money Monster and I have stopped our cycle at “buy a bigger house.” Everything after that we have changed to fit our lifestyle and goals. The beauty about being on FIRE is having the foresight to see you can hop off the well-worn path and blaze a new one. knowing your destination is a step in the right direction. We’ve noticed that getting there is a ton of fun, too!

    Afterthought: “Kids” today don’t realize how quickly life passes and how early decisions can have a huge lifelong impact.

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m glad our community is one of a different path. And a defined oe for each individual. If everyone could get there, that would be fabulous! But so many haven’t picked their dream yet.

  3. Oh man, I wonder if that girl at the ice skating rink was me! Lol. I’m only sort of kidding. I’m 34, and I definitely have switched paths a whole bunch of times (and spent a lot of time not having a path and freaking out about how I don’t have a path). For some reason it’s just a tough issue for me…people always say “just figure out what you’re passionate about, and do that!” but for me that is much easier said than done. I can’t tell you how many times I switched my major in college. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, honestly.

    Funnily enough, I also remember making a conscious decision to NOT pick the most popular or easiest path…although maybe not for the right reasons. I remember being in high school and college and thinking, everyone else is trying to pursue a lucrative career and make lots of money…so I’m *not* going to do that, just on principle! (I definitely have mixed feelings about that approach now.)

    Anyway, thanks for the post, and for emphasizing that switching paths can be part of the journey! I think that’s a really important aspect of this topic. πŸ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      Of course switching paths is okay. The point is to try to find your path. Moving forward is key. As long as you’re trying and not just heading in the path of least resistance, you’ll figure out where you want your destination to be. But I’m sure we’ll all reroute lots of times along the way. (PS – I had a very NOT lucrative major and still ended up in a lucrative field part time. NO worries. !)

  4. Charting your own course and figuring out what matters to you is so important. Love this post!

  5. Ah! This post reminds me of one of my favorite songs: Leann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance,” where one of the standout lines in the song is ‘Never settle for the path of least resistance.’ I’ve always been fairly Type-A my whole life, and creating plans was a huge part of how I grew up. At times, I used to get on myself for not just “going with the flow” & wondered if I was too uptight. I recognize now that all my planning has allowed me to accomplish much already, and excites me to continue to follow different routes for my goals (as well as incorporating my fiancΓ© & family’s goals as well)! You emphasize phenomenal points – you are never stuck & you always have the ability to recalculate your routes & destinations. Thanks for the motivating post this Monday. πŸ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      Flexibility isn’t the same as following the path of least resistance. Sometimes we confuse the two. People who are big planners are shamed for being “too focused” or “obsessed.” Flexible people are often seen as not having a plan. And people that don’t have a plan often just say they’re “being flexible.” It’s a confusing life we lead! Just pick a path! But changing paths is great too!

  6. Really thoughtful post. My entire adult life I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. The Mrs and I mostly followed the traditional path. Fortunately, being in the military allowed us to try several things within the confines of a steady career. We’re both very goal-oriented so we were always working towards something.

    I’m still not 100% sure where we’ll end up. Now that we’re fully on board with the FIRE path, we’ll soon have the ability to explore many paths relatively risk free. What could be better?

    • MaggieBanks

      FIRE is your path. Responsible people that don’t know what they want to be when they grow up (a group we include ourselves in) just plan to save up enough money to be wishy-washy responsibly. πŸ™‚

  7. Like Ditching The Grind, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up and figure out my path. But in the meantime, I’m content saving and investing as much as possible, so that my path doesn’t have to bear fruit of the money variety.

    • MaggieBanks

      Same here. Saving money is a responsible way to allow yourself to pick lots of paths in the future!

  8. Such a great post! Finances is such an important part of simplifying. I agree knowing what you want your path to look like requires intention in your day to day. I will be following your blog as I think even though I have slowed and simplified…this is the next hill for me. Financial freedom.

    Happy December.

    Fran
    (An Aussie who likes a path)

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks Fran and welcome to our little corner of the interwebs from tomorrow! (The time difference between here and Australia always blows my mind.) Financial freedom is a great hill to climb! Good luck.

  9. I realized I was heading nowhere and went hiking to figure out a direction for my life to take. It helped a lot in so many ways, but now that I’m here, I realized, “Meh, it’s okay, but not as fulfilling as I thought, and now with a family and kids, I want more quality time.” So we’ve been plotting our new direction towards that Lifestyle Change. While we’re still here in our current situation for a few more years, we have a plan, a roadmap and are well on our way to our new Lifestyle.

    We were just discussing our various options available if we both got laid off with oil prices going even lower, and I have to say, they’re still pretty sweet. Whether we get our hand forced to start this sooner or not, like when you were in your out of work situation and trying to get life going, it’s all about the positive approach. You learned how to repurpose things, side hustle and stay afloat, something you never would have willingly chosen to go through if not forced to be in that situation, just through circumstance.
    Sorry so rambly, but it’s nice when you have a map, and know where you are on it, even if you didn’t necessarily choose to be at that point, or want to go the route with the hills that pop up.

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree with you. Having a path is better than not having a path even if something drastic completely wipes out your path. At least you knew where you were headed and you can either reroute to head there a different way or regroup about where you would rather be heading. But if you don’t start anywhere, when things like layoffs happen, you don’t know where you’re headed because you were never headed anywhere in the first place.

  10. Great post! Up until basically the last year, I was definitely just following the herd… along the “normal” path… But then I found all these wonderful personal finance bloggers that opened my eyes to a whole new series of paths that I can choose from. I definitely haven’t made any final decisions on what my destination will be, and I don’t know which path will get me there once I do choose, but like you say, it’s okay to change paths and I’m excited to explore many of them along the way!

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s absolutely okay to change paths. Moving forward on a path is what is most important. There are so many paths to explore but when we just move along, we don’t actually explore any paths… we just go with what’s easiest. And that doesn’t get us anywhere great. Great places are usually at the top of big hills. πŸ™‚

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