...to enlightenment isn't paved."
My friend photographer Paul Brown of Seattle saw this quote printed on a poster aboard a British Columbia Ferry he was riding last year and posted an image of it on Facebook.
To this I commented, "None of the worthwhile roads are paved."
I've been feeling restless lately, and this phrase keeps coming to mind.
I think that is because of my life experience. In the past, when I have exited the easy and expected way, and turned onto rougher, rockier and sometimes harder tracks, the growth and success I achieve has been unexpectedly satisfying. The rewards of risk-taking can be much greater than those realized by staying on the more-traveled route.
As a teen for the first time I read Thoreau's Walden. It made an unmistakable impression on me and over the years I recalled this particular quote, which pretty much sums up the whole book:
My first acquaintance with the less-traveled road was when as a youth I spent a couple of summers volunteering in Colombia and Nicaragua. When the opportunity first presented itself I wasn't too sure I wanted to go, but my parents pushed me a bit, and I have been grateful ever since that they did. Leaving my comfort zone was a life-changing experience that set the stage for many things I did later.
Three times over my career I quit good jobs without new employment in sight. In each instance I knew it was time to make a change, but wasn't sure what to do next. Rather than stay on when my heart was no longer in the work, at these transitions I took off to volunteer, travel and think. Each time, taking the plunge and following my interests led me to new, more fulfilling experiences. I look back at those times as some of the most fruitful of my life.
I've taken many other less dramatic turns off the easy road. A few of those were not completely successful on the surface, but were valuable because of what I learned from them. By and large, each time I have steered off the main trail and onto interesting side roads of life I have been very happy that I did so. I may not have become enlightened, as the saying says, but at least I have grown, succeeded and enjoyed in unanticipated ways.
The last time I took a big turn off the paved highway was when I moved to Mexico. I left the best job and best boss I'd ever had, sold almost everything I owned, and moved into a decrepit old house I'd bought in Mérida. And although I miss my deep roots in Alaska (and visit often), I've barely looked back.
That's because the life I have here now is something I starting imagining during that first eye-opening trip to Colombia thirty-nine years ago. Although I did it unconsciously for quite awhile and was sidetracked often, I've moved fairly consistently in the direction of that one dream all this time. Stepping off the paved roads made it possible.
Photo by Paul Brown
Photo at top: A country road in Yucatán