Robert Frost was right.
Taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.
THE QUESTION IS: How do you navigate that road and still arrive at your destination in one piece?
And not just in one piece – in one peace, too?
My name is Scott, and I’ve been taking the road less traveled pretty much my whole life.
Especially since I graduated from college. That was the last time I ever entertained the possibility of walking the conventional path. Blech.
Since then, I’ve learned a few things. And I wanted to share them for one reason:
Because I know I’m not alone.
After all, it’s called the road less traveled – not the road never traveled. And if you’ve been encountering a few speed bumps along the way, consider these ideas for your trip:
1. Get good at getting lost. I get lost almost every day of my life. Not just because I have a non-existent sense of direction – but because I love it. I demand it.
And while I’m sure it frustrates my friends and family to no end, that’s just who I am. People know: If you take a trip with me, you better bring your boots. Because there ain’t no map, there ain’t no plan and there ain’t no telling where we’ll end up.
But, that’s all part of taking the road less traveled: Not knowing. And our brightest transformations usually occur in the moments when we’ve lost our way.
The secret is making sure we haven’t lost our why. Because although it doesn’t always matter where we’re going – if we don’t know why we’re going, whatever destination we reach will be stumbled upon with an empty, lifeless heart.
It’s like Buckminster Fuller said, “Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels.” The question is: How directionless can you afford to be? You need to figure that out for yourself.
Remember: A world in which you can’t get lost isn’t a world – it’s a cage. Are you leaving room for the unexpected?
2. Accept fear as an inevitable part of the equation. Taking the road less traveled is simultaneously invigorating and intimidating: On one hand, you’re thrilled by the prospect of adventure; on the other hand, there’s a stream of urine running down your leg.
And that’s the question I’m consistently asked by fellow road-less-travelers is, “Do you ever get scared doing your own thing?”
And my response is a resounding, “Are you kidding me? Dude, I’m a human being – I’m scared every day of my life. In fact, if I wasn’t scared – then I’d really be scared."
Because if you’re not scared, you’re not stretching.
And if you’re not stretching, you’re not mattering.
The difference maker is, winners know how to convert their fear into fuel. They know how to displace the impact. Personally, whenever my body notices a fear response, I write it out.
Not just because I’m a writer – but because writing is one of the few places in my life where fear doesn’t exist. It can’t. I refuse to give it oxygen. Writing is where I call fear out on its face, watch it suffocate and then use its ashes to color my canvas.
The cool part is: These fear moments tend to produce the strongest, truest material. Kind of makes peeing your pants worth it. What successes are you missing out on because you’re not accepting, loving and leveraging your fear into fuel?
3. Walk with the wise. The road less traveled is rarely short of footprints. If you want pick up the clues to success, find the people who have gone where you want to go, make a mix tape of their greatest hits, and then play that record on repeat until you know it cold.
Here’s the process I’ve been practicing for years:
Google them. Introduce yourself. Get to know them. Ask lots of questions. Take copious notes. Learn from their mistakes. Thank them for the example they’ve set. And occasionally update them on the progress you’ve made.
That’s it. Anything more is an annoyance. Wise people tend to be busy people.
However, if you really want to double your learning, do whatever you can to get these people to look you straight in the eye and deliver the skinny on what it’s going to take to make it.
If you have to buy them lunch, fine.
If you have to fly to Charlotte for the weekend, fine.
If you have to split a cab to the airport with them, only to realize you’ve just gone to the wrong airport, fine.
I’ve pulled all three of those moves, and never regretted a single minute. And neither will you.
Remember: The road less traveled isn’t just foggy – it’s lonely. When you walk with the wise, don’t just do it for the wisdom, do it for the company. Do it for someone to walk with. How many mentors do you have?
4. Be aware of the wake you’re leaving. When you dare to descend down the unknown path, certain reverberations will always ring elsewhere in your life. For example: Have you considered the repercussions your unconventional journey will have on the people closest to you?
Definitely something to think about. After all, your relational support structure is your pillar. And while you don’t need their permission to take the road less traveled, you still need to put yourself in their shoes.
In Leslie Parrott’s inspiring book, You Matter More Than You Think, she offers solid insight on the relational response to the people who take the road less traveled:
“When you choose to be true to yourself, the people around you will struggle to make sense of how and why you are changing. Some will find inspiration in your new commitment. Some may perceive that you’re changing too much. And some may feel you’re abandoning them or holding up an uncomfortable mirror.”
Whatever happens, be more patient with them then they are with you. I know it’s not easy soliciting the support of the people who love you the most. But success never comes unassisted. Without buy-in from (most of) your loved ones, the road less traveled becomes very windy. How much longer can you pretend that what you do doesn’t have an effect on people?
5. Anticipate the bumps. After four years of taking the road less traveled, my body finally started to pump the breaks. Hard. From stomach cramps to chest pains to irritable bowels, the road sign was clear: Slow the hell down, Scott.
Too bad it took three hospital visits for my ears to get the memo. Woops. Either way, I’ll never forget what my surgeon told me the recovery room: “You’ve chosen an unusual career path, and your body needs to learn how to adjust to it.”
And it did – eventually. But only because I learned how to relax. Literally, those were my doctor’s orders: Do something deliberately relaxing, every single day.
Have you incorporated that practice into your daily schedule yet? If not, start today. It doesn’t matter how you do it – only that you do it. Humans might be hardwired to withstand struggle; but without this ritual, you’re likely to crash and burn.
Look: It’s called the road less traveled for a reason. If you don’t expect the pavement to be poor, that’s exactly how you will end up – poor.
Because it’s not that this can’t happen to you; it’s that this is happening to you – and just doesn’t make sense. Not yet, at least. What foundations are you building today to handle the speed bumps of tomorrow?
6. Convert ambiguity into ammo. The scary part about taking the road less traveled is – after a while – the world you know, disappears. Yikes. And when you look back, you suddenly discover that there’s nothing left but a big, steaming pile of ambiguity. Double yikes.
Next time this happens to you, befriend the fog. Take what’s ambiguous about your situation and listen for how you might convert that into something useful. Because there comes a point when you have to stop trying to do – and start listening for what wants to be done.
Here’s a helpful approach: Pick a simple question, i.e., “What’s next?” or “What should I do?” and ask it to yourself while exercising. I’ve been practicing this strategy for years, and have found the combination of motion, endorphins, self-inquiry and repetition to be the perfect recipe for clarity.
And more often than not, by the time I’m done working out, I’m significantly closer to my answer that I was before. Either that, or I fall off the treadmill right in front of the cutest girl in the gym.
The point is: Just when you think you’re screwed, you often find providence riding shotgun, ready to help you navigate through the uncertainty. You just have to be willing to trust the process. What are you doing with your ambiguity?
7. Declare a moratorium on what doesn’t matter. "Suspension of activity." That’s what the word moratorium means. And if you plan to take the road less traveled – and still arrive at your destination in one peace – you’ve got to start deleting useless activities that don’t enrich your life.
For example, a few years into my career, it occurred to me that going out four nights a week probably wasn’t the best career move. So, I made a bargain with myself: While my friends were out at bars, getting wasted drinking beers; I was back at home, getting wealthy writing books.
Now, it’s not like I stopped having fun completely. I just chose to delete the word “bar” from my vocabulary. And my life, my health and my career were noticeably better for it as a result.
Your challenge is to confront your own schedule and start deleting. I suggest asking five questions:
*What are you doing that makes no sense at all?
*What consumes your time that isn’t making you any money?
*What are you doing that doesn’t need to be done by anyone?
*Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?
*Does this take up a disproportionate amount of time compared to the result?
Without all that noise, you’ll be able to create a detailed image of your ideal life. Screw balance. Do you have work/life happiness?
REMEMBER: Taking the road less traveled doesn’t just make the biggest difference in your life – it enables you to make the biggest difference in other people’s lives.
Don't worry. I'll see you out there.
I’ll be the one swerving into your lane while singing Journey at the top of my lungs.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Robert Frost was right.