Everyone knows the story of Dorothy, the optimistic young woman who makes her way to Emerald City on a road paved with yellow bricks. Recently, I was walking my own path when Dorothy’s adventure came to mind. In thinking about her journey, I came to think more broadly about paths in general – and about the many analogies that paths might present.
When one thinks about a path, I assume it is a common understanding that the path has a beginning or starting point and an end or destination. Paths are generally constructed as a connector between one destination and another; a way to guide someone from Point A to Point B with as little disruption as possible. But as Dorothy herself found, there are more often than not disruptions on a path.
The path forward can sometimes become unclear, possibly grown over with brush, or disrupted by broken cobblestones. When this break in the path happens, it is easy for us to retreat; to turn and go back from where we came. And I guess that’s sometimes ok. The places we have already been are known to us; even when they are not exactly pleasant, we know we can survive these places because we’ve already lived in them. We know what the expectations in those places are; we know how people will treat us and what will be the “norm.” To venture out in a new direction, to continue on a path when it becomes emotionally or physically or mentally challenging, requires a certain amount of bravery. Like the lion on Dorothy’s path, we will have to find our courage as we venture into something new.
Certainly, there are skills we can use to our advantage when navigating a path, especially when it is unfamiliar. To prevent an ankle sprain, we avoid the uneven terrain; to keep from slipping on the path, we wear flat ruby slippers. Of course I am speaking in simple terms. But more broadly, I just mean that we are best served when we are able to use the lessons we’ve learned in the past to guide us into anything new. Like the scarecrow, we must find our brain on the path and use the things we’ve already learned to guide our decision-making.
But perhaps the most important part of any journey is the heart we bring to it. How jealous the tin man would be of we who have hearts able to hold limitless amounts of joy and adventure! Of course, we must be open to the possibilities that lie before us; we must be willing to stick with a path even when it becomes a challenge. And what if, three-quarters of the way to our intended destination, our path just ends? Do we turn in retreat? Or do we envision what lies before us and push on, creating a path all our own?
I have known many people whose strictness to a path has left them disappointed or even shattered. But if the path represents our lives, wouldn’t we be better served to think of the pavement simply as a guide? I personally find great joy in stepping off the path every now and then to celebrate achievements, express love, or even consider another route. It is in the wilderness that surrounds my path that I often find the greatest inspiration, the most pleasant surprises, or learn the most poignant lessons (yes, that WAS poison ivy!).
My point is this: it is important for me to have a sense of what I want to accomplish in my life. I set goals. I meet deadlines. But I also know that nothing is certain; situations change, jobs disappear, relationships end. So instead of tying myself so rigidly to a path that points from Point A to Point B, I choose to use my courage, my brain, and my heart as a compass.
I follow a wonderful writer on Facebook whose name is Victoria Erickson. As timing would have it, as I was prepping to write this blog, her post today was this: “If you can see the path or plan before you, it’s likely not your path. Take this step right here. Then decide on the next. Do what feels right. Not what you think is right. What feels right.”
My gut is rarely wrong. I think that’s what Erickson is trying to say. When we make decisions that feel right, when we are brave enough to be true to our hearts, our path will always lead us home.