Friday, January 14, 2011

Following Our Internal Compass

I was reminded recently of the necessity one needs to rely on the “internal compass” we all have. You know what that is, it's what's responsible for gut feelings and it's what gives us courage to head into the unknown. Too often we ignore the internal compass and get caught up in expectations or social standards, norms and status quo. A while ago, my mind's eye created a somewhat interesting depiction of the "path of life" in one of my regular attempts to make sense of my approach to life/goals/dreams etc. What I came up with was a bit of a cross between an episode of The Amazing Race and a game of Snakes’n’Ladders.

*Disclaimer: (it’s never good when you have to add a disclaimer) I want to point out that while I take one view on what path I want to take, I don’t by any means think the “Path of Life” path is wrong. I think many people are able to find happiness and be fulfilled on this path, but the truth is, many are not. My objective here is only to illustrate my belief in an alternative.

Path of Life theory:
Point A is the beginning, Point B being “Success”

I consider the beginning to be high school. Before that, our choices and ability to make choices are limited. At the beginning we stand (relatively clueless) at a trail head. There is a clear path well-marked and well-travelled. It’s a trail with clear signs, lots of other people on it and outhouses along the way ‘just in case’. There stands a sign that reads “This way to Success”.

The trail starts fairly easy but there are some ups and downs along the way. The good news is that they are the same ups and downs that everyone else will face so there’s bound to be lots of support and lots of people who understand your predicament. You’ll be perfectly safe.

Don’t worry about getting lost. There are milestones along the way for you to measure your rate of success, like little check points with envelopes that provide clues about the next destination. First you find your high school diploma. Yey! That one was easy, not far from the start, some rough terrain, you were overwhelmed by it at the beginning, but looking back, it wasn’t so bad. Right away, before we get to comfortable on the path, we’re given our first choice. You can either venture off the path towards adventure and a little bit of travel, or you can keep your eye on the ball and fast track to “Career”. Some of us that will chose a little travel and adventure here will get caught up in exploration forever deviating from the path, but most of us fall right back in line after a short stint in the unknown woods. For those that didn’t choose the adventure and fast track, we’re headed uphill to University. A few tough climbs, some life lessons later and you reach "University Degree". We spend a moment here wondering about that option back at the "High School Diploma" check point and wonder what it would have been like had we taken that chance for adventure. But we’re drawn back to the well-worn path for a few reasons: first, we’ve been told that this is the only route to reach our beloved “Success”, second, because chances are we would have gotten scared out in the woods without someone leading us and telling us exactly where to walk.

Back "on track”, we arrive at our first obstacle in a series of “Career” challenges. We work hard, apply what we learned in school, follow instruction and we are rewarded along the way with income, benefits and the security of our new “Career Path”. We truck along gathering bonus points and finding level warping tunnels in the form of holiday bonuses and promotions.

Whether your right in the middle of your career path, or maybe at varying cross roads, you come across “Marriage”. You collect that flag and move right on to take the “Family” route.

Many of these paths run parallel and close to one another, so many of us are able to jump across paths scoring a promotion on one path, take on the challenges the family trail has presented all while enjoying the brief mini-adventures of running free in the woods between paths.

With each passing year (sometimes faster, sometimes longer) you collect the flags as you approach the mile markers on the road to "Success".

Eventually, you get there. Congratulations, you’ve made through high school, spent X amount of years in University, got to see a bit of the world and had a little adventure while you got a job, and then another job. You got married, bought a house, had babies and managed to save enough money to retire happily. You’re here. Enjoy your success. All your friends are here, you all get to enjoy the same success since you’ve all travelled the same path. Way to go. Enjoy the party. (queue popped champagne and streamer cannons)

If that doesn’t sound right to you, you’re not the only one. What if you arrive at said “Success” and it’s not what you had envisioned? You followed the signs, went where you were supposed to.. but what the heck!? This isn’t what you had in mind at all. You never got to [INSERT ADVENTURE HERE] and you never went to [INSERT DREAM DESTINATION HERE] and you never got to [INSERT BUCKET LIST ITEM HERE]. Too late. You're at the end of your path. This game has no reset button.

Here’s my alternative. But buyer beware: the route to your own success is not easy. You can not follow the paths. You must hold a machete and bush whack your way through life. It’s a helluva lot more work and most of the time you feel lost. While you may come across the same milestones (Career, Love/Marriage, Family etc) you can not use these as mile markers to judge where you are on your route. There will be times when you fear you will never find success, but you must rely on your internal compass to guide you. Temptation to take the well-worn path will be great, but if it is your own custom designed success you crave, you must continue trailblazing.

Undoubtedly, your vision, dedication, perseverance and hard work will pay off and you will arrive at your destination. Be prepared though, there will be no party waiting for you. You will be the only one that knows you’ve attained what you so desired. The only reward you will have is that you did it.

People will not always agree with your choice to make your own path. They will not understand why you choose to in some cases, take the long way, or, in almost every case, the hard way. But you have to trust that the reward you seek is far greater than the criticism you face along the way.

That internal compass of ours is hard-wired to our destinies, but it alone will not get us there. We have only to follow it to our own success. When challenges arise, decisions need to be made, or you simply just feel lost, pay attention to your internal compass. It may not always be easy, but it will always point you in the right direction.

As per my disclaimer, I don't think that those following the "Path of Life" are miserable or unhappy and just don't know it. What I do think, is that there are too many people settling for being passengers in their lives because they either don't realize they have choices, or they are simply afraid of making them. Maybe question the path your on today...

Are you making your own choices? Or are you following the well-worn path?

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