I was reflecting this morning on a hike I took a few weeks ago with my oldest son at a park near our home in the northern Atlanta suburbs. We came across a fork in the trail which made me think of Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken, and these lines in particular:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
That reflective day on the hiking trail and this poem have been on my mind of late as I consider the choices and decisions I have made in my life and the ripple effect that followed. I have often taken the less traveled path and am grateful for the rich experiences, lessons learned and the wonderful people I have encountered along the way. I assure you I have not always made perfect choices, but by and large I feel a sense of contentment and appreciation for where my life is today. Do you ever reflect on the decisions you have made and the paths you have followed in life?
As I consider these important experiences and decisions from my past, some were complete directional changes with my career, some involved embracing new ways of living and some were profound mindset shifts. As I reflect on the process that led to embracing these choices, I remember leaning on the invaluable lessons I learned from my parents, the positive behaviors I observed from people I respect, my own intuition and the values taught by my faith. Here are the four that stand out most:
- Understanding that my work exists to serve my family. My family does not exist to serve my work. In my early 30’s I made a life-changing shift in how I viewed work. I had been fortunate to enjoy a lot of career success up until that time, but my young family was making too many sacrifices with my work travel and I made a fundamental shift in my thinking. I stopped asking my family to sacrifice for my work and began making career choices to better serve my family. Guess what? My career continued to thrive despite the boundaries I placed around it and focusing on putting my family first.
- Embracing a grateful mindset. Long ago, my wife and I began working very hard to model a life focused on gratefulness for our sons and those we encounter each day and we know this ongoing effort has absolutely transformed us. This includes also being grateful for our challenges and seeing the adversity we have endured in our lives as a blessing, not a burden.
- Living an authentic and integrated life. I have worked very hard over the last 20+ years to be the same person in all areas of my life and strive to be consistently authentic as a businessperson, husband, father, community servant and man of faith. I see all these disparate areas of my life as integrated and not existing in their own silos. I am very open about my life outside of work and am always interested in learning about others. Authenticity in today’s world can be challenging as we may fear judgment, isolation or condemnation for expressing views out of sync with popular opinion, but I would argue that a life lived without authenticity is no way to live.
- Recognizing that our children are always watching us. They will likely model later in life what they learn from our example. My sons are 24 and 20. My oldest son has high-functioning autism and lives at home and my younger son is a junior at college. When I was a young father, I realized that I needed to make some fundamental changes as a husband and dad. I got off the road and switched careers because my wife and I wanted our sons to grow up with our family having dinner together every night and I wanted to follow the good example of being fully present for family set by my own father. We pray together as a family every night before we go to bed. As a family, we give our time, talent and treasure to our church and the community. We play games, we laugh, we listen to each other, we are honest with each other and we make sure that love is present in our home. My wife and I do our best to model a good marriage for our sons. We are far from perfect, but we hope that by doing our best to live by the right values they will do the same long after we are gone.
All of us probably remember growing up thinking our lives would follow a certain path. As we grow older, we hopefully begin to recognize the overwhelming number of choices we can make every day about careers, relationships, where we live, how we live, etc. The surrounding culture and well-meaning people in our lives will always offer the paths they want you to follow. These paths will likely appear to be sensible, logical, offer worldly success or anything else you may think you want out of life. I remember well the years when all I thought about was climbing the corporate ladder and earning a great living, because that was what everyone around me was doing.
Maybe you will make the relatively safe career and life choices that everyone else seems to be making, embrace conventional thinking and be perfectly happy. But, I would ask you to consider that the popular paths and the conventional choices may not be the best ones for you. Perhaps, you should consider the road less traveled when you come to the fork in the road. Be willing to question “one size fits all” conventional wisdom. Trust your gut. Seek out wise counsel from the truth speakers in your life. Live by your values and follow your moral compass. The easy and well-trodden path may not bring true fulfillment. It may not lead to truth or happiness. It may lead to an ordinary life when you were made for something extraordinary. Be willing to ask the tough questions and make the choices that work best for you and the kind of life you wish to live.
I spent plenty of time early in my career on the popular road and I was successful by the world’s standard, but unfulfilled. From my experience, the time I have spent on the road less traveled has often been difficult with lots of obstacles to overcome, but I am incredibly grateful for where my life is today and the opportunity I have to serve and help the people in my life. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.
I chose to walk on the road less traveled and that has made all the difference…
*Stay tuned for the 4th blog post in the Upon Reflection series next week: Thoughtfully Considering Generosity