“Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path and then leave a trail.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Have you ever heard someone say, “She’s such a trailblazer!” What they’re saying is that she is so confident in, and inspired by, the direction in which she’s heading, she makes her own path. It would not occur to her to follow someone else’s path because she would rather tame her own wilderness, thank you very much.
Speaking of wilderness, I used to work in it… as a seasonal park ranger in North Carolina. I loved that job. Maybe, most, because one day the park superintendent gave me a map. Not just any map, mind you. This map had Cartesian coordinates, and other bugaboos that made me wish I had paid much closer attention to high school geometry. Anyway, I was given:
• a map (that even the Secretary of Defense would have a hard time reading);
• a drawknife (to smooth the tree’s outer bark);
• a can of bright yellow spray paint (with which to make my marks/blazes);
• a stencil (to make my marks/blazes neat and uniform); and
• the command to, “Go blaze this trail, Harris.”
I’ll spare you the details of how uncertain I was. The racing thoughts of insecurity and self-doubt that I had. “Is this the right way?” I asked myself every few minutes. “How am I supposed to make sense out of all these thick trees and wild growth… when there are no paths?!?” Duh. That was the point. I was supposed to create clarity — walking and scenic clarity — where there currently was none. Trailblazing. I had an epiphany that day.
Working through that metaphor. Actually. Literally. Blazing a trail.
That experience opened up new neural pathways in my brain… in my heart… in my memory. It was an act that I want to keep on living. I’m not saying that I don’t walk on sidewalks, or that I don’t refer to the expertise and wisdom of others. That would just be dumb. Not innovative. But my biggest, most important life-choices are made with my own map. Sometimes it might take me “longer” to reach my destination. Sometimes I might change my destination altogether. Mid-journey. So what? Life is not a relay race. “Crossing the finish line” = death. And there’s a lot more living I want to do! So you won’t find me borrowing someone else’s map… to frantically rush to their favorite spot… only to find I don’t like the view there anyway. Nah. This is my life. So I’ll blaze it as I see fit. And I’ll cherish each and every step.
“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or a path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.” (Joseph Campbell)