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.