In Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, a choice is laid out in the form of two diverging roads. While many interpret this poem as an encouragement to take a less traveled road, the poem doesn’t say this. Frost presents us with two paths that really look about the same. While he would like to have tried both ways, he had to decide and then “way leads on to way”. He won’t return to try the other path. A choice is made and then Frost tells us how he will describe this decision in the future. He admits that he will likely point to this decision as one that made a difference. “Telling this with a sigh”, how can we make good decisions and then how do we live with decisions we have made?
- Gather the facts: It is best to start out in an analytical mode. Understand the financial implications of a decision. Learn about the players already involved. Get information on the product if this is a career decision. Put information about an offer in writing and solicit input from experts on what is fair and appropriate. If you are deciding about a more personal matter the same concepts apply. What is the personal cost of proceeding? What will change in your life and does it matter? Size up the pluses and minuses. Write them down if that helps you get organized.
- Consider the “way leading on to way”: Many choices we make will lead us down a path. Usually we can tell if the path is a good one. A degree in education will likely lead to a teaching job at lower pay but at great personal reward if this is your calling. A degree in engineering will open up many doors but will likely lead you to a desk job with less freedom to take blocks of time off or to work at home. Deciding to join a more established company could lead you to a number of job possibilities within the company but you will be a small fish in a large pond. Picking a smaller company will give you more chance to lead but you will not learn as much from others as you will likely be the only expert in your area. As you consider how the way will lead to another step, think about whether that path is where you want to be.
- Heart check: While an analytical approach is a good backdrop for any decision and should shape how you feel, the tie-breaker is almost always the heart. More often than not there are two paths that both look pretty good. Perhaps like Frost one of the paths looks a bit more worn than the other but it is hard to see very far down the path and really there are few paths that haven’t been trod. What alternative feels right to you? Where is your passion. What do you wake up thinking about? Even if the direction you are leaning is the least understood, it might be the best for you if your heart is there.
- Be brave: When you have weighed facts and honestly reviewed your heart’s desire, it is important to be brave with the decision. Have confidence in your abilities to do a job or make a move or change a career or launch a project. There is little that can’t be figured out with the right attitude and some passion. If we are not brave in our decisions they get made for us. Sometimes the options go away. Sometimes time and resources force our hand. So, when there is a decision to be made, make it and move.
- Move forward knowing that you will spin the tale: This truth is a bit of a relief. We pick a path and it makes us who we are. When we look back we usually tell the story that our wise decisions got us to where we are. And honestly, we are right in part. If we make our decisions with the facts coupled with the heart and we bravely move forward we are likely to lead a life of adventure and learning. We are likely to be satisfied with what we have become. We are likely to be happy with our choices.
We all have choices to make. Be thoughtful, heart-full and brave and then pick your road. And God bless you on your journey!
The Road Not Taken 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;
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.