“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.”
– Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
In light of recent happenings, this topic has been moved ahead of schedule.
Sometimes, we have to work hard to overcome the initial distastefulness of ideas, to get to the inspiration that comes from understanding and accepting them. It may help to keep that in mind here.
The Rooms You’ll Never Stay In
Hotels and airports are the crossroads of the modern world. These places find us at times of transition in our lives; We pass through them on the way from one place to the next.
The next time you find yourself in either, think about the rooms you’ll never stay in; Watch the other flights take off and land. Ponder the sheer volume of guests who have ever stayed in that hotel, or ever flown from that airport. Your own journey is but one tiny little slice of a larger whole…
Yet it is your slice. No one else’s.
We may not truly understand the things within our reach, until we have considered those outside of it. (See: The Dimensional Mind for more on this.)
Pruning Branches From A Tree
Picture the choices in your life as the branches of a tree; Some paths are close to each other, complementary – others cannot coexist.
The further we travel down one branch, the farther we must regress to choose another. Rare are the opportunities to leave all of our choices behind, and travel to the other side of the tree. Most of us will only ever imagine what those branches would have been like.
Picture some of your distant ones…
•A school you chose not to attend.
•A career path you never took.
•Someone you broke up with.
•A friendship you ended.
•A student you could have mentored better.
•A project you left unfinished.
Imagine yourself sawing some of those branches off, and laying them in a box. They’ll always be there for you to remember, but be clear to yourself: these are not part of your tree anymore. For some, this can be a painful exercise; I can attest to that.
Years later, we might see all the ways we could have better spent the time between leaving these things behind, and coming to terms with them; The choices we couldn’t make have a way of distracting us from those we did make…
The Power Of Acceptance
This isn’t really about the old branches. It’s about eliminating distractions – leaving you with a confident, clear sense of who you are, and where you are going. That’s the payoff.
In Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) meets a “Doc” Graham (an actual baseball player) who quit his major league career to pursue a medical degree, after playing only one game. Kinsella believes the purpose of their meeting is to give the “old Doc” a chance to live out his unfulfilled dream.
Instead, he learns that this humble doctor has no regrets about the choice that he made, and would proudly make it again. He knows that the world needed his skills as a doctor more than it needed another baseball player. The real “Doc” Graham did pioneering research on children’s blood pressure that probably saved many of their lives.
“If I’d only got to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.”
I’d like to believe we’re all capable of this kind of humility.
The Conflict Of Wants And Needs
Embracing the realistic, when done sincerely, has a power all its own.
I once had to tell a girl I was quite fond of that things couldn’t work out between us. To my surprise at the time, she accepted this warmly, and respected my choice. I believe it was my sincerity that won her over.
Our situations were incompatible at the time; Her life was headed in a very different direction than mine. Pursuing a relationship would have carried serious, irreversible costs for both of us. She needed to concentrate on important parts of her future, more than she needed me distracting her from those.
Though I carry that branch in my box, and think fondly of it from time to time, I regret nothing. She’s on her way to becoming a success, and I’m very proud of her.
We cannot be what others need, if we are too busy being what they want.
Too Close To See The Flaws
This principle extends to all relationships – personal and business.
Many lessons have emerged from the aftermath of the Mt. Gox collapse. Perhaps the strongest of these is the sheer number of people close to Mark Karpeles, even those who knew him on a first name basis, who overlooked signs of massive trouble building under the surface.
It seems so obvious now, that there were problems all along – and that Mark’s company and business model should not have been trusted with the sheer amount of money that they were. Yet, so many didn’t want to wave the red flag – out of a sense of friendship, social obligation, and not wanting to spoil the good mood.
I’m not faulting anyone for this – it’s human nature.
We see these situations often in the legal system. When we become close to someone, we want to rationalize away their flaws – sometimes until we can no longer ignore them. Friendship is a beautiful thing, but it can cloud our judgment.
Life has a way of thrusting large responsibilities on us, often when we least expect them. The largest of these should be met with sound judgment and a clear head. It helps to be able to detach ourselves from the situation, or seek the advice of someone who can.
Though the aftermath is far from over, it is important to keep in mind that this, too, is an orphaned branch of a once possible future – one that will eventually have to be excised.
My sincerest condolences to those who lost out. Perhaps the best way to turn their losses into a positive experience is by learning the right lessons and not repeating the mistakes.