“There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them.”
— Ralph Marston
I spend a lot of time writing and teaching about finding your path and living your purpose. We get to choose many different paths in life like career paths, relationship paths, spiritual paths, and paths to health and wellness. When all of these paths converge, you feel tremendous momentum and incredible peace of mind!
But I’ve noticed that many folks have trouble choosing a particular path. The Universe offers us zillions of options when it comes to paths we can take. It feels like being in the toilet paper section at a grocery store: There are so many choices— from “soft on the little tushie” to “meant to be forgotten”—that even the TP decision can be overwhelming!
I would be the first to say that no one path in any area of life is the right path for everyone. Some people opt for monogamy and others are happier in open relationships. Some people are driven to create whole industries and others prefer to make just enough to enjoy life. Some folks feel content in a formal religion and others prefer self-guided meditation in the woods. They’re all good paths.
That said, I do think it’s important to choose a path and stick with it if you want to see results. I see many people acting like Dug, the goofy dog in the movie Up: With every bright new trendy path they see, they forget the path they’re currently on, holler “Squirrel!” and chase after the new one—until the next bright shiny path appears.
I don’t think these folks are insincere in wanting a career or spiritual or fill-in-the-blank path. I think they just have some misunderstandings.
- If it’s the right path, it shouldn’t be hard. Not so. A path is meant to have some challenges. That’s how we learn and gain strength. As Sai Baba says, “Man learns through experience, and the spiritual path is full of different kinds of experiences. He will encounter many difficulties and obstacles, and they are the very experiences he needs to encourage and complete the cleansing process.” If you find a path that is totally easy for you, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.
Take relationships. A great relationship is not necessarily sunshine and roses at all times. A great relationship is one that helps you both grow into who you really are. A great relationship stretches you to become more than you have been. A great relationship has challenges. Contrast this with a relationship that is totally smooth, where you and your partner agree on every little thing, where all of your interactions stay comfortably within your comfort zone at all times. Doesn’t that sound a little boring? What kind of personal growth would you get from that relationship?
- A path that is true should go in a straight line. Not gonna happen. Life isn’t designed to be a straight shot from here to there. As businessman Tom Freston says, “A career path is rarely a path at all. A more interesting life is usual a more crooked, winding path of missteps, luck and vigorous work. It is almost always a clumsy balance between the things you try to make happen and the things that happen to you.”
Things happen along any path. Someone dies or leaves and suddenly you’re on your own. The economy shifts gears and suddenly you’re heading in the wrong direction business-wise. A hurricane interrupts your meditation retreat and suddenly you’re looking for shelter, not silence. None of this means that you’re on the wrong path. It just means you have a slight detour along the way.
- The right path should be a rational choice and make sense. Actually, often the right path is tough to justify analytically, especially when you’re trying to justify it to others. As actor Henry Winkler (The Fonz) said, “Your mind knows only some things. Your inner voice, your instinct, knows everything. If you listen to what you know instinctively, it will always lead you down the right path.”
You have the innate capacity to know what is right and true for you. We’ve all had the experience of “red flags” telling us to stay away from a particular relationship or that twinge of discomfort about certain spiritual teachings. We’ve all had Ah-ha! Moments of “Wow! I love that!” or “This feels like I’m finally home.” You may or may not be able to explain it rationally, but if you listen to your gut, you know if a path is right for you.
- We should get a clear sign from the outside that this is the right path. Don’t hold your breath. Odds are that the right path for you will not be marked by a burning bush or get the blessings of the Pope—or even your mother! It’s a waste of time to wait for the perfect sign. As Groucho Marx reminded us, “A black cat crossing your path signifies only that the animal is going somewhere.”
You can’t wait for someone or something on the outside to point out the path that’s meant for you. The most popular exercise program du jour is not necessarily what’s right for you. The spiritual teachings trending on the internet aren’t necessarily the ones you’re meant to follow. You are the only one who can know what road you should follow.
- I have to be absolutely sure before I commit to a path. I love what Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, “Travelers, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.” When you hold back from committing to a path, you’re an observer not a participant. It never works to dip just your toes into a career or a relationship. You can only experience the lessons of a path by diving in.
Once your gut points the way, go for it! Down the road, you may discover that this particular path was just a stepping stone to another. Great! You’ve learned something valuable and are moving forward. But standing on the sidelines? Not much growth happening there.
I urge you to discover the paths that are right for you and stick with them until they truly no longer serve you. Don’t let a path’s difficulties or the fact that others don’t agree with your path throw you off course. Ignore the bright shiny trendy paths and listen to your gut. And if you aren’t sure about the path you’re on, keep this in mind:
“To connect with the great river we all need a path, but when you get down there there’s only one river.”
To your TOTAL empowerment!