When hiking it is inevitable that there will come a fork in the road. It is inevitable then that I will faintly smile and recall a familiar poem by Robert Frost,
“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;”
That looking; ‘as far as I could’ as if perhaps somehow I could know which was the right path.
That is where I want us to focus right now, because that looking; that straining to see through the moment is what we call the decision making process.
Many times, like hiking, the decision is pretty straightforward. Do I take the longer hike? Or the shorter hike? Do I choose the route that is well trod or the one with overgrowth and only a slight visage of a path? There are times in our lives when the fork in the road will considerably alter the direction of our life. These life altering decisions are not to be taken lightly.
These are waypoints on our pilgrimage of life in which our journey changes course.
I’m sure you can think back to some of those big decisions you had to make — a new job or a big move. There are three techniques that can aid when you hit such a point in your pilgrimage. At this juncture you can (1) balance the scales (2) guide the stranger (3) check your gut.
Balance the Scales: When faced with a major decision the desire is to make the ‘right decision’ is complicated with competing interests, fears, images, and memories (usually of failure). It is good practice to make sure both options sit even on a balance so you can view them objectively and weigh the pros and cons of each choice. That is exactly what I am suggesting with the first technique. It starts with a sheet of paper and two components. At the top of the paper, write the choice before you, for example, “I will take the job opportunity and move to Florida”. Below that divide the sheet into two and write out all the pros and cons. Exhaust yourself writing down every aspiration, every fear, every possible option. Now, this is where many people stop. But you’ve only weighed the balance to one side. Now, take the sheet, flip it over and weight the other decision, “I will not take the job opportunity and will not move to Florida.” Divide the sheet into two and write out all the pros and cons. Exhaust yourself in the same way. Once it is finished put the list away — for a few days if you can. Then come back, review, and upon deliberation you will find your balance leaning towards the option that feels right. With this technique, through reason, you will be able to indifferently weigh the matter and make a decision.
Guide the Stranger: Step outside of yourself. When faced with a big decision we can often times become very self centered. This is the most important decision ever! Right? And probably one of the reasons we make the decision even harder is because we are only thinking of ourselves. And who do you go to for advice? Your best friend or your family! Why? We want to hear what we are already thinking. It is common for us, when making decisions to seek confirmation bias, a reflexive seeking of the information that supports our existing position. Therefore, it can help if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. In this technique find a quiet place where you can close your eyes. imagine you are introduced to a stranger. This person comes to you with the same quandary as you and seeks your support and guidance on the matter. Since you would like to see this person be successful and happy, how would you direct this person? Whatever advice you dispense is the same advice you should take.
Check your gut: ‘trust your gut.’ One of my favorite life quotes was handed down to me from my grandfather, a farmer who was frequently besieged with traveling salesmen. Many of them would walk on the farm, pitch their products, and need an answer right away, right now or else the deal was over. And it usually was. My grandfather would tip his hat and politely request they have a nice day, quite to the befuddlement of the salesman. His motto, “never shake hands with a hasty man.” That’s a gut check moment. Our intuition plays a big role and we have to be honest and aware of the situation. Instinctively we may know which is the right path of that fork in the road, and we need to summon the courage to take it even if it isn’t the most popular or doesn’t get us what we think we want right now.
As we journey on life’s pilgrimage we will come upon the forks in the road. Journeying as we do they can be as common as every bend, dead-end and plateau. Each requires a reflection point, reliance on divine providence, and ultimately a decision. With all the secular world throws at us with options and distractions it can become difficult to make decisions that resonate with who we are and how we are being called. Through balancing the scales, guiding the stranger, or checking your gut are techniques that can help you navigate while on the path of your pilgrimage.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –“
What did you decide?