Do you sometimes wonder if you’re on the wrong path through life – but can’t see any way to rework your footsteps and join a different one?
After I graduated from University, I wrote in my journal:
“It is exciting to have my whole life ahead of me and know that I could do pretty much anything I put my mind to. It’s daunting but exhilarating to stand at the summit of 16 years’ full-time education and gaze out at the land around me. I could go anywhere from here.”
But I didn’t “go anywhere”. I took a well trodden path by getting a job (tech support) in London, leaving home and renting accommodation. The first couple of weeks were fun: I’d worked in temporary office jobs as a student and enjoyed the environment, I was excited to be in London, I was learning a lot of new techy things at work.
But after a month, I wondered “Is this all there is now? For the next 40 years of my life?” And I stumbled across an article online: Steve Pavlina’s 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job:
“It’s funny that when people reach a certain age, such as after graduating college, they assume it’s time to go out and get a job. But like many things the masses do, just because everyone does it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”
Lessons learned: Just because “everyone else” is taking one route (whether in their job, social life, eating habits or spending habits) doesn’t mean that you have to follow them. Take the time to look for the beginnings of other paths, even ones which are hidden and rarely trodden.
The Wrong Path Narrows Quickly
Whilst the wrong path is easy to join, every step makes it harder to turn back. Your “wrong path” might be overeating (not only gaining more and more weight, but entrenching bad habits deeper and deeper), getting into debt (which can spiral out of control), or abusing alcohol and drugs (an incredibly hard path to break away from.)
After I’d been working for about six months, my boyfriend moved to London (he’d be starting a university degree there in the Autumn) and we joined together to rent a flat on a year-long contract. We looked for what we could afford based on the assumption that he’d get a temporary full-time job. Unfortunately, finding work proved more difficult than either of us had guessed, and my savings dwindled from £5,000 to just £32. I was lucky enough to get a raise at work, though, which stopped us dipping into the red – and once my boyfriend’s student grant came through, I started to save up again. But, at this point, I was convinced I’d need to stay in my job for at least the next three years, whilst he was studying.
Lessons learned: Lack of money is probably the biggest factor for many of us in sticking with the wrong path and not going after our dreams.
The Myth of the One True Path
Once you’re well onto the wrong path, the other people you meet tell you it’s the only path. They may hate it and wish they were walking a different way, but they refuse to accept that other paths can actually be safer, more enjoyable and lead to better destinations.
I found that colleagues were often fed up with the humdrum Monday to Friday, 9-5 routine. But whenever I mentioned that I was saving money (usually to explain why I was bringing in lunch from home, or why I didn’t go out often), they were bewildered. They couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just live paycheck-to-paycheck, like everyone else.
Lessons learned: Be willing to ignore your peers. You don’t have to conform to whatever the “norm” is, especially if it’ll take you further down a path you don’t want to be on (spending too much, eating/drinking in an unhealthy way, schmoozing or blagging your way up the corporate ladder…)
Rumors of Other Paths
Sometimes, people might wander across the path you’re on, then head of into – as far as you can see – a bewildering maze of trees. These people might be artists, freelancers, writers, part-time workers, full-time moms, charity volunteers, world travelers … the one thing they share in common is a certain glow, an inner joy.
As I traveled down the wrong path, I met some of these people. Consultants who worked with my company. Full-time authors at writing conventions. I read and listened to freelancers, entrepreneurs, life coaches, and others, learning from their books, blogs and podcasts. I realized that there really were other paths, not just this grey, endless one.
Lessons learned: Stay open to other possibilities. Just because you’ve never tried something – or perhaps never even heard of it – doesn’t mean it’s not real.
Escaping Your Path
One of the hardest things about being on the wrong path is that you can’t turn back. There’s no way to undo the weeks, months or years that have passed: they’re gone. Wishing that you’d made different choices, or that you’d had better advice, is a waste of time … you can’t change the past. But you don’t need to start again from the beginning of the path. You can cut through the woods.
I saved up for eight months, replacing the whole £5000 that I’d spent the previous summer. I freelanced “on the side” for five months, earning enough money from writing to convince me I could do it for a living. I also did some free work on websites, building up a small portfolio. I worked the hardest I ever have in my life, and there were times when hacking through the forest seemed like far too much work – but the alternative was that long, grey path.
Lessons learned: It’ll be a struggle when you leave your path. Whether you want to quit your job, lose 50 lbs, travel to every country in the world or earn a million dollars – the initial stage will be hard and frustrating at times.
Into the Sunlight
There will come a moment, one shining day, when you hack through the last of the tangled brambles to stand blinking in the sunlight. Your feet are on your new path, which turns and twists through pleasant greenery, and the birdsong above brings an instant feeling of calm as soon as you step out into the light.
Thursday 31st July was my last day in technical support. I finally started on the path I should have taken two years ago: writing, blogging and creating websites. The slow, plodding pace of the old path is gone, and the new one is filled with diversions, resting places, and wonderful fellow travelers.
Lessons learned: Do whatever it takes for you to get onto the right path – it’s worth it.
Are you on the wrong path? What are you doing to fight your way back to the right one?
Photo by: Tambako the Jaguar