Is the ‘road more travelled’ such a bad idea?

We often hear great stories of people who have taken the path less travelled, and how it made all the difference. It’s exciting, inspiring and certainly gets me motivated.

But the truth is that it takes a particular kind of individual to take that road. In a sense it’s a given – the reason why the road is less travelled is that most people don’t have the courage or insight to take it in the first place. And while I never want to squash anyone’s sense of adventure, and although I really do value our uniqueness and the way we live our lives, the road more often travelled (or at least parts of it) is more travelled for a very good reason – for many people it’s a better way to go.

What I’m targetting here is the tendency of some to automatically assume that if everyone else is doing it, if it’s a typical part of most people’s lives, then it’s somehow mundane, and not a part of authentic living. Now if what everyone else is doing just isn’t you, then fair enough – don’t do it. But if you are scared that you are giving in to the status quo, then just maybe the status quo isn’t the awful ogre it is so often made out to be. Mundane things can actually be quite wonderful.

There is no shortage of inspiring role models, people who go against the flow and achieve remarkable things. Steve Jobs comes to mind, a remarkable individual by any measure – but, from what I can tell, I would not have wanted to be him in a million years. My understanding is that he was a manipulator, perhaps a sociopath, consumed with one thing – his way. The reason why he was so successful is because his way worked – he was right so much more often than he was wrong.

He was indeed unique. But I doubt that he was happy (though there’s no way I can know that), and although his example is indeed inspiring, I’m not sure I want to use his life and example as my yardstick. In fact, if you look closely at most world leaders (in whatever industry, political or otherwise), they are both amazing and possibly some of the most difficult people to live with. Freud was of the opinion that the greatest things done in the world are often achieved by neurotic people trying to work out their neuroses (that’s my attempt to describe his view, and I’m sure it falls considerably short of an accurate description but I hope you get my point).

Let’s look instead for a moment at a mythical person (I’ll call him Harry), who has a good job, falls in love with a good woman, has kids who grow up to be people they can be proud of, and helps others (not too often though, he’s not a saint). Harry enjoys beer with his mates, perhaps likes to work on vintage cars, and has a marriage that has stood the test of time in spite of seasons where they nearly drifted apart. As he looks back, his life has been full of wonderful, ordinary, sad and joyous moments.

That sounds pretty ho hum, but I would wager there are some go-getters out there who would give anything to have what Harry had.

I don’t know if any of you have seen the animated movie “Up”, where in the first few minutes we are introduced to a man who finds the love of his life and they plan to go on adventures. They start to save, but life gets in the way and they have to raid their savings because the car has broken down, one of them is involved in an accident and has to be hospitalised and so on. In the space of a few minutes we whizz through their life, and it seems a joyful, loving, life filled experience, if somewhat uneventful. But they never get to go on that adventure they had hoped for. And that’s where the story begins to kick in.

Gee, these story tellers know how to suck you in. I was captivated by those few minutes of the movie (the rest of it is pretty good too). Their lives, so poignantly portrayed, though insignificant to everyone else, was not insignificant to them. They had lived a full life together even though they had had their share of sorrows (his wife could not conceive). As the rest of the movie kicks in we see an old man coming to terms with the fact that his wife has passed on, and grieving the loss of all the joy he had experienced with her.

If you’re interested, this link will take to a clip of that specific part of the movie.

Why do our lives have to be so significant compared to others (and what counts as significance anyway)? Is it really so terrible to make decisions similar to the vast majority? As long as we are not just following like sheep, as long as we are consciously choosing our life path, as long as it is what we want to do, do we really have to be distinctly different to everyone else? Does our path really have to differ so much?

Now you need to remember that I am a person somewhat driven by a desire to be significant, so it is no small thing for me to be posing these questions. I hope you have noticed, in my blogs, that I really want to squeeze as much out of life as I can (even though I may not have succeeded as much as I would like). Obviously I think it’s a good thing to do. But I also envy people who can be happy with simple things.

If you are driven, rejoice in it. Go for it. Reach for the stars. Think outside the box. Test yourself, defy the limitations that others try to put on you. But if you find, in the process of living your life, that it’s not so different to everyone else’s, just ask yourself if you are happy (or happy enough). If you find that you are dismissing ‘typical’ lifestyles just because they are typical, make sure that you are not doing yourself a disservice.

And of course you may be the kind of person who does not have such drivenness, or not  as much as others. It’s encouraging to know that we don’t have to be people that scale new heights, achieve amazing things, or be noticeably different from everyone else. Just maybe the path you are treading is significant to you, and to those in your life. Enjoy it.


Author: Terry Lewis

I'm a guy in his 50's who thought it might be fun to write about day to day issues - the stuff that life is made of. It's helped me think and develop some deeper perspectives. I enjoyed it so much I thought I might start posting it in a blog, and here we are! I intend to mix it up as much as I can. I am a thinking kind of guy so the majority of my posts will probably have some kernel of truth or (hopefully) wisdom nestled in there somewhere. But I also hope to have some light hearted posts as well. Too much thinking can make life pretty dull! Anyway, hope you like it.

3 thoughts on “Is the ‘road more travelled’ such a bad idea?”

  1. Thank you for yet another marvelously thoughtful and articulate post, Terry. You’ve really struck a lot of chords for me with this one, because this concept of “don’t settle for being ordinary” is one I struggle with daily. And I think part of the reason so many chafe at being called “ordinary” is because most of the people who are living ordinary lives are SOUND ASLEEP. They go to the grocery store without ever marveling at the sheer variety of food that surrounds them, or without thinking about the life of the man who picked the pomegranate, nor imagining the fruit’s long journey from that man’s hand into their own. But if you have just a tiny bit of curiosity and a sense of wonder, you quickly discover that even the most seemingly mundane moments are really quite extraordinary.

  2. Thank you Heather, and you have made some wonderful comments as well. “Sound asleep” – how true. I think that is the main thing – do we wander through life, allowing others to dictate our choices, and never consciously own them or the moment we are in? But if we are alive to ourselves and the world, then we can recognise the beauty in everyday things (even sadness has a strange kind of beauty to it). If we truly are mavericks, then more power to us, but we don’t have to be mavericks in order to true to ourselves.
    This post came about as the result of a brief conversation with a young person who had commented on a discussion with their father, and that they didn’t want to just get a job, have a family, have kids and then die. I can absolutely understand where she was coming from, but it made me wonder if in fact the father had given her good advice (I don’t have a clue what he actually said) and that she had spurned it because it sounded so ordinary, so typical. It made me wonder if, in the pursuit of an exciting and wondrous life, she automatically stayed away from things that could actually be part of a great life for her, but were too stereotypical for her to consider.
    Thanks again for your comments – keep ’em coming!

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