“Two Roads…” Which to take?

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Today I heard a reference to Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.” It brought back memories from my High School Literature class, yet this time I remembered it quite differently. For those of you who know it, I’m sure you have your own interpretation. For those of you who don’t here it is:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 
-Robert Frost

As you know, I don’t usually talk about poetry in my articles. Not because I don’t like poetry, on the contrary, I think it has an incredibly moving capability to distill some of the world’s most complex ideas into a series of words, but because till now I had not really seen a connection between poetry and the topics I write about. Today was different however. When I remembered Frost’s poem, it made me reflect back on situations in my life where I was faced with a decision to make. Decisions that, as he said, made all the difference.

In life we often times get drowned by the chaos and overdose of information. It can be hard to navigate, and even harder to choose the right path to follow. Whether it’s friends, health, lifestyle, or professional, making educated decisions about how to proceed through life in the most beneficial way is difficult. In some cases, there is no right path to follow. Sometimes we find ourselves troubled by the vast array of options we have, afraid to commit to any one path. I know I myself have a hard time committing to one. So how do you proceed in such a scenario? When faced with the options how do you decide which path will be the most beneficial, and how do you know?

Well, Frost does not tell us whether the path he chose was beneficial or not. All he tells us is that it has made all the difference. While everyone will have their own interpretation of this, I’d like to share mine. I understood this to mean that regardless of the path you choose – regardless of whether you follow a path started by others, or follow one less known, your life will remain yours. Your stories and your experiences will be yours. The path you choose may lead you somewhere other people have already been, but your experience of the process makes the difference in your particular life and understanding.

In addition, I think Frost’s poem stops one path short. In his poem he is faced with only two paths. Both defined, and both visible. He does not talk about the path you yourself start. The path you create because your instinct took you in an entirely new direction. This is the path I find the most interesting. We forget that our ability to think creatively, and follow our hearts, is the ultimate path that we should follow. In life we don’t have to choose to follow in the footsteps of those that came before us. Sometimes, when our feelings for something are strong enough, our own beliefs will allow us to forge a new path, towards a destination that we ourselves want to reach. While it’s harder, with more unknowns, more risks and no guarantee of success, by following your heart you create a path that fulfills you, not one that brings you to the places that others have already been.

The reason I talk about this is because I find that many people become intimidated by the notion that they can in fact create their own paths through life. We tend to compare ourselves to those around us, looking to see what accomplishments they have achieved, how much they make, what car they drive, how old they were when they bought their first house… We have normalized the notion that our evaluation of ourselves comes from the standards set by others. Especially in professional settings, we accept without any interrogation that there is a specific order of operations through which we must approach life. I understand that in many cases there are particular things you must accomplish, and that is not a bad thing. What I wish to emphasize however, is that it’s okay to wander off the path a bit if your heart feels strongly about it. To push new boundaries and explore the unknown is to take ownership of an intellectual and professional space in our world. That is something special. To be able to say that you became who you made yourself become is something we should all have the confidence to feel. Find your passion and follow whatever path it sets out before you, because that, makes all the difference.

 

 

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