While I am not a massive poetry person, this particular (well known) poem has always been one of my favorites.
Robert Frost (1874 – 1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.
The Road Not Taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
It has always spoken to me as a commentary that the well traveled path in life is not always the best one. There may be times we make decisions that take us down less certain paths and when that happens we hope the experience is worth it. The author arrives at a very binary choice, 0 or 1 or A or B in the multiple choice test world. In this case there’s sure and certain and less sure but more interesting. We don’t really get the outcome of the story, just a confident feeling that the decision will be remembered as well-chosen one day.
If this were prose, we might have paragraphs devoted to the decision, the pluses and minuses of each decision. Certainly, I have to admit to being one of those people who can get completely wrapped up in what I take to be big decisions in life. I have lost track of how long I considered selling my house and moving, how long I considered whether I wanted to change jobs, and so on. Even as I got close to really making a decision to leave the safe harbor of my old job and life, I know I sent countless emails and notes to friends agonizing over whether it was a sane thing to do.
In the end, it really comes time to just do something and move on. To either stick to the known road and the known outcomes or to go off road and see what else there is. And the funny thing is we wouldn’t be agonizing over the decision if we were that happy with the status quo!
We make decisions every day that we don’t think nearly so much about but could have more profound outcomes. I decide to take a left at the traffic light and I’m struck by a concrete truck. I go right, I have lunch. Yet I made that seemingly simple choice without attaching the same stigma to it.
Sometimes, we’d be better off treating our choices with a little less drama and more certainty that the experience, in the end, is what matters most. Analysis paralysis gets one nothing but angst in the end.
I’m going to end this one with a quote that has been attributed to Mark Twain but there’s apparently nothing to prove he said it. Wish I knew who did write it as I had this on my cubicle wall for 10 years and have enjoyed trying to live up to the words.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.