Which of These Three Roads Are You On?

You may have heard of the famous poem by Robert Frost called “The Road Not Taken,” in which the poet reflects positively on having taken the “road less traveled.” I love this image, and the pioneering, tenacious spirit it conjures. At the same time, I have to admit that selecting the optimal way forward isn’t always easy. In fact, most people struggle to figure out what is the “right” road to take at various times, especially when change is required. In reality, there is rarely one perfect road to choose.

When I think about roads, three categories come to mind:

  • The Desirable Road
  • The Unknown Road
  • The Road to Nowhere
The Desirable Road
The Desirable Road

Most of us desire a road resembling the one in the photo above. A road like this one has some very appealing characteristics:

  • It is straight, and we can easily see what lies ahead
  • It is flat, with no big hurdles to overcome
  • It is pretty, with attractive and appealing sights along the way
  • It is well-lit, with no place for threats to hide
  • It has a pleasant climate, making us feel comfortable as we travel

Were it possible, I would choose this road every time. On this road, I can easily get where I want to go, while feeling confident and successful as I journey along.

Unfortunately, I don’t come across many roads in my life that look like this one. Instead, I tend to encounter…

The Road Unknown
The Road unkown

I seem to run into this road all the time. Unlike the desirable road, this road is overwhelming:

  • It twists and turns with an unclear destination
  • It is dirty, dusty, and uneven
  • It offers plenty of places where threats can hide, ready to pounce
  • It is full of distracting pests, bugs, and critters

This road is intimidating. Even when I want to move forward or make a change, I hesitate before stepping onto this road. Anxieties easily get the best of me when I face this road, and I worry about things such as:

  • What if I get lost?
  • What if it costs me money that I don’t have?
  • What if I fall sick on this road and there is no one there to help me?
  • What if I get far along, and then have problems?
  • What if I want to turn around but can’t get back to my starting point?

Roads like this can be frightening, especially for the risk-adverse among us. Many people loathe the idea of taking this road. As a result, we end up on…

The Road to Nowhere
The Road to Nowhere

At first glance, we look at this road and think, “I would never take such a road. It clearly doesn’t lead anywhere.” Nevertheless, most of us end up on this road at one point or another. As much as may not want to admit it, the road to nowhere has some advantages:

  • It is familiar
  • It is safe
  • It is predictable

Of course, this road also has significant drawbacks:

  • It is short, with few options
  • It offers nothing new and/or potentially better
  • It offers no relief from a bad situation
  • It provides no chance for growth and learning
  • It is lonely
  • The view never changes

We may want to go somewhere new, but due to feeling scared, intimidated, threatened, or otherwise unsettled, we rationalize staying put on the road to nowhere.

*   *   *

So, what is the lesson? Is it always better to boldly venture out onto the unknown road if the desirable road is unavailable? Not necessarily! When we want to make a change, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

1. It is rarely wise to begin down any road without a bit of preparation.

Do your homework, consult other people, count the cost as best you can, and assemble resources. Courage is admirable, but planning is just as valuable.

2. Waiting is sometimes a wonderful option.

There are many instances in which the best course of action is to be patient and watch to see what unfolds. For example, we may lack sufficient information, but believe more will be forthcoming. Or we may be waiting for another person to act first. Alternatively, a situation may be evolving, so we want to delay until the dust settles. There may even be seasons when the change we desire is simply unrealistic.

It is a skill to be able to wait patiently, making the best of the current situation while we watch and wait for the right moment to act.

3. Admitting when we are “stuck” is critical.

If we are perpetually unhappy, complain a lot, or repeatedly talk about how we wish things would change, we may be stuck on the road to nowhere. It can be hard to get off of this road, especially if we’ve been on it for a long time. Being honest about a desire to take a different road is an important first step. As long as we rationalize staying in place, we are unlikely to pursue meaningful change.

Most people find themselves in this place at one point or another. It is important to resist feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Having a hard time doesn’t mean you should be suffering in silence. Instead, acknowledge your anxieties and struggles, and share them with someone you trust. Friends, family, and professionals can often help us see options for breaking away from destructive patterns of thought and behavior. If the people close to you are not helpful, look elsewhere! One of the few upsides of the pandemic has been the emergence of online resources to help people facing any number of challenges.

4. We can move slowly on the road.

Time pressure makes any situation more stressful. It is okay to move at a pace that is comfortable. Admittedly, we may need to add target milestones and accountability to keep us moving forward, but it isn’t necessary to run. Instead, we can celebrate slow and steady progress.

5. When we encounter setbacks, we can simply try again.

Most roads are twisty. We are likely to stumble, fall down, and even take a few steps in the wrong direction. This is normal! We may need to pause, heal, pivot, or regroup, but we can always get up and try again. The most powerful thing we can do is resolve to stay focused on the goal, refusing to give up until we have it. As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going!”

*     *     *

Which road are you traveling at the moment? How do you motivate yourself when you encounter the road unknown?

Seana's signature

18 thoughts on “Which of These Three Roads Are You On?”

  1. Wow! There are so many ideas here to wrap my head around. Which road am I on? Which road do I typically travel? How do I stay motivated when I encounter an unknown road or road block?

    Honestly, I think all roads, even the familiar ones, have surprises. Think of the frequently traveled routes you know so well. One day you’re driving along and there’s an accident or a slow down or bad weather. There is an unanticipated hiccup on a familiar road and it changes what will happen next.

    I suppose with any road you travel, awareness is essential. Know where you’re coming from and are heading. Then make the best of the journey in between.

    1. You are so right. One minute you are on the smooth road, full of confidence, and then the road takes a turn and you hit a hurdle or the fog descends. I completely agree that awareness is essential, and helps us navigate whatever road we happen to be on better!

  2. Seana, this is such a great analogy, complete with photos to illustrate the three options – I love it! I especially appreciate your interesting way of saying that not making a decision is really deciding not to move forward – taking the road to nowhere. Lots to think about – thank you!
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Are we ready for what’s next?My Profile

  3. I love the parallel between all the different roads and where we are headed. My route is a combination of all these roads. There are times that construction is on my road too! With the best of preparation we come to a road where we have to use additional maps to get to where we want to go. Those maps include furthering education, team resources and at times intuition to move along. This is going to be something I think further about too.

  4. I love this analogy, Seana, and the thoughts you present. I took myself off a safe road awhile back and have been navigating (not always well) a road with many twists, turns, ups, downs, and potholes! I like the quote for Winston Churchill ‘.. keep going’. I have kept moving and find myself now in a place where it is familiar – challenging, yes, but familiar. I feel so much more comfortable and at ease.
    Your guidance, to move slowly and steadily, is such good advice. Taking the time to ask questions and evaluate options while still moving slowly forward is very important. Standing still never got anyone anywhere.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…Bring Harmony into Your Home – Get OrganizedMy Profile

    1. I’m so glad that you are in a better place now, Diane. It’s been a journey for sure. In my experience, standing still can actually end up feeling like moving backwards. In addition to lack of progress, there can also be guilt and shame and self-recrimination. The result is that the safe & familiar ends up feeling uncomfortable.

      That said, I wish all my roads were straight and easy. Alas, they aren’t, so I carry on too!

  5. I like the comment, “It is rarely wise to begin down any road without a bit of preparation.” When I take any road that I have not previously been on, I look the route up first on a map site. Then I may rely on waze but know that it can go wonky sometimes as well. On those trips, my destination is my goal. At other times, while I probably have a destination, I may feel more adventurous and want a change of scenery.
    But most of all, I feel I must be prepared to change my route if I receive new information.
    Jonda Beattie recently posted…The Best Reason to Use the Zone Plan to Organize Your HomeMy Profile

    1. I always begin with some sort of plan too, Jonda! Many times my plan doesn’t work out, but if I can just stay calm and regroup, I can make another one. I have a healthy respect for those who are able to “dive in” to new circumstances. I think that was easier before I became a Mom, and solving all the problems became my responsibility. Now I realize I have to figure it out either way, so I make my plan and do my best.

    1. I am in a very similar position, Sabrina. We aren’t ready to downsize or relocate as we wait to see where our children will settle! I feel like I shouldn’t just leave a place, but rather should wait for God to call us to a new location!

  6. This is one of my favorite Churchill quotes, and it goes along with a book I’ve been reading about Ganbatte, the Japanese art of stick-to-it-iveness and always moving forward. You metaphor shows that sometimes you can’t have the road you want, but some roads (even if bumpy or dark) can be useful while others (even if straight) won’t lead us where we want to go.

    Another type of road to nowhere is the roundabout; you keep going and going, circling, but making no progress. Busy, but not productive. You’ve given us so many things to think about. Like the others, my travels are a combination of all of these roads; and sometimes, I’m at the rest area, just waiting until I feel the confidence to merge into traffic. Thanks for writing this.
    Julie Bestry recently posted…How to Organize and Track Your Packages and MailMy Profile

    1. Oooooh, I love that roundabout road. Isn’t that one we so often travel? We feel busy, but nothing is happening. Thanks for sharing that comment – terrific!

  7. Right now I’m on The Road Unknown. It feels strange but I just see no other way to be when there’s a baby due any week now. I think I’ve had a good ride slowly on The Desirable Ride and I do think I’ll get there again. I think we’ll travel all three at various times, and yes, awareness is key!
    Tamara recently posted…Easter Candy Charcuterie BoardMy Profile

    1. We most definitely pop around between roads. The goal is to not get stuck on the road to nowhere. When we are open to the twists and turns, odds are we will end up moving in a good direction. So excited for the baby – when is your due date?

  8. I love your flections and how roads (life) can take different turns. While reading I thought about congested roads – ones with lots of traffic – impeding your progress. Yes, it’s great to plan your route ahead of time, but also good to be flexible and will to change course if necessary.
    Janet Schiesl recently posted…Calm Crafting – A Client ExperienceMy Profile

    1. That’s a great thought, Janet! Congestion that slows us down is something we definitely encounter when we are trying to move forward. Terrific comment. 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.