The appeal of life’s unfamiliar roads
Every so often, you’ll have a gut feeling—a pull towards something or someone. In that moment, you know in your heart that if you let it, life as you know it will irrevocably change.
In books, these moments go by names like “crossroads,” “turning points,” or “critical moments.” They mark the point in the story when a hero—often an unwilling one—must choose between two paths: Will Cinderella go against her family’s wishes and attend the ball, or will she stay home and forever wonder what might have been? Will The Godfather’s Michael Corleone live out his days as a family outsider or assume the position of mafia boss? Will Atticus Finch turn a blind eye to injustice, in To Kill a Mockingbird, or risk his reputation to defend a man who has been wrongfully accused?
We read these stories and root without hesitation for our protagonists to overcome obstacles like ego, evil, and villainy. If our heroes must endure a harsher struggle for a brighter reward, we allow that they must make sacrifices. Moreover, rather than skipping ahead to the resolution, we engross ourselves in the story’s harsh battles and challenges.
Yet when it comes to our own lives, how often do we pick the more comfortable option, forgoing long-term benefits in favor of short-term rewards? An example: Instead of introducing ourselves to new people who could make a difference in our lives, we stare down at our smartphones, answering emails and playing mobile games.
Our own crossroad moments—or moments of truth, if you will—may not appear as pivotal as those in popular stories; but over time, these character-building decisions add up.
Recently, I was presented with a crossroads: I could enroll in Marie Forleo’s B-School, an eight-week Internet marketing program for creative entrepreneurs, in hopes that it would provide the opportunities and knowledge needed to fast-track my new business. Alternately, I could continue down the path I’d been on—cobbling together information from library books, free webinars, and affordable in-person events.
If I chose the familiar path, I’d retain the thirty prepaid college hours left over from my Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan and would be free to use the funds for graduate school someday. Meanwhile, the other path seemed to be more of a gamble. To afford the program, I’d have to cash out my graduate school nest egg for a course that would not provide me with a formal degree or certificate upon completion.
However, after quite a bit of soul searching (read: research), I opted for the unfamiliar road—the road that prompted me to cash out my “graduate school security fund,” dedicate at least forty hours of my week to school assignments, and carry out projects that pushed me out of my comfort zone.
This unfamiliar road has been messy, it’s been frightening, it’s been full of pivots and transitions. But most of all, it’s been rewarding. Since I made that crucial decision to invest in myself and in my education, I’ve noticed a few huge changes in my life: For one, my thoughts are becoming less limiting and more global. And two (and this is where the magic happens!), I’m not only clearer about what returns I want from my business, but I’m also clearer on what returns I want out of life.
In choosing the path that would force change in my life, I opted to move past a central plot point in my life and turn a page in my story. And, to echo Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” that has made all the difference.
The next time you’re forced to make a potentially life-altering decision, consider the path you’d root for if you were the protagonist in one of your favorite stories.