When the Path Isn't Straight
I hear a common sentiment in my clinical and vocational work that goes something like:
I didn’t do things the “right” way so I was delayed getting to the point I’m at now.
I really struggle with this sentiment for a number of reasons. First, I have heard SO MANY people say this! Almost every single person I know has at some point felt this way about our journey. If all of us feel this way, is there a possibility that there simply isn’t a right way?? I think a big pice of this is the issue we have with social comparison. We often compare ourselves to others in ways that aren’t helpful. A wise person once said “comparison is the thief of joy.” For me, that sentiment reveals a truth about the way we make evaluations about our own lives. We often compare what is happening in our lives to what we see of the lives of others. The difference is, we know our WHOLE lives- all of our shortcomings, mistakes, etc. However, when we look at the lives of others, all we see is the curated version of them they want us to see. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of blaming social media, but social media. Most folks don’t share about their bad moments to the extent they share about good ones. It’s human nature to actively present ourselves in positive ways. The danger of using only what people tell us as a method of comparison is that we inevitably end up viewing ourselves as less than, based on what is at best a half-truth! Someone posts about a new job they’ve received, and we don’t hear about the 15 or 20 rejection letters they got before that one yes. A friend shares wedding photos, but not mugshots of the breakups that came before. A new mother shares pictures of her maternity photo shoot, but may not have shared about a miscarriage that came a year before. Let me be clear; this is NOT a criticism of a positive-only social media presence. That is each person’s prerogative and right. However, I am suggesting that we should keep this reality in mind and work against not comparing ourselves to another’s social media avatar. Perception is not real life!
Second, who decides what is the “right” way? Are you actually talking about the expectations of the people around you? Is someone telling you that you “should” have done it one way or another? Psychologist Albert Ellis was famous for telling his clients that they were “should-ing all over” themselves (pun intended). If we were to critically evaluate the “shoulds” in our lives, many of us would find that they are really implicit and explicit messages we’ve received from others about how they believe we should do life. And, just because someone else told us to do something, doesn’t mean we have to! One of the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood is that we have the opportunity to make our own decisions. We get to decide how much influence other people we have in our lives. Sometimes, that we means we block out the opinions of people we love and care about when those opinions are not in our best interest. They cannot walk in your shoes. They do not live your experience. They do not live with the consequences of your choices- you do! You deserve to create a life for yourself that matches YOUR wants and desires, not those of another person, regardless of how much you might love and admire that person. Does that mean you might make some mistakes along the way? Absolutely. But does that mean that, if you pay attention to yourself, you might stumble upon something that only you could have discovered about yourself and for yourself? Absolutely. Run your own life. Don’t give away your power to anyone else!
Lastly, consider that the “straight” path might not be the most fulfilling path. Sometimes, there simply isn’t one right answer. Most of us, without much work, can think of a time when we experienced an unexpected surprise; something we didn’t know was coming, maybe didn’t even want, but it ended up being exactly what we needed. I am a firm believe that even those things that seem like detours can have a powerful purpose in our lives. This is not the cookie cutter “everything has a reason” response. Sometimes, we have to work to find the purpose in detours and distractions. Every time you hit a wall, make a mistake, or feel frustrated, stop and ask yourself a simple question:
What is there for me to learn in this situation?
You might find that what best positions you for your end goal is the lessons you gleaned from the experiences you thought you weren’t supposed to have. You have an opportunity to make the most of the long road, and even celebrate it, rather than viewing it as a failure. A familiar scripture is a clear reminder remember that something can be gained form any situation:
“ And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28
So, when you are tempted to think less of yourself because you didn’t have a direct route, consider what you learned along the way. Consider that most of us are figuring out this windy path together. Consider that no matter what you have experienced, you still have the opportunity to live the life God crafted just for you!
Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!