The Path to Success is Rarely Linear
We all have hopes and aspirations; to be human is to strive for something. However large or small the feat, we are spurred by action to achieve our subjective successes. Unfortunately, though, a lot of us assume that our life will be a linear progression towards the realization of our dreams. We put in a ton of work, effort, and elbow grease, but sometimes the results are rather lackluster.
Disappointment can lead to discouragement, hopelessness, and frustration so palpable that dreams are abandoned for the safety net of settling for something with less risk and emotional recoil. And yes, no matter how much you deserve to succeed, no matter how much of your life you invested into a passion project, yourself, or your business, sometimes success is just not in the books at the moment.
But does this reality have to seem so bleak? Of course not! It might seem like it at the time, but these hardships are actually a blessing in disguise. We are meant to get a little lost, and we are definitely not forced to follow a linear trajectory to the fulfillment of our goals.
Can we take our losses in stride and actually use them in positive ways to strengthen our resolve and put us even closer to success? Yes, we most certainly can!
The reasons for why this is so important will be discussed below. Let's explore them!
When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take it
The baseball great Yogi Berra supposedly said this. But his humorous directional advice is actually really relevant in this context. If we see a fork in the road, don’t be paralyzed by the burden of choice: make a decision, commit to it, and understand that it might just be a detour in the grand scheme.
If the path doesn’t amount to much, that’s quite alright; plenty can be learned from taking the scenic route. And some have even found that the ‘wrong turns’ they made along the way actually altered the shape of the long-term goals. In this context, in the grand scheme of things, there are no ‘wrong turns’, just the inevitable detours along the way.
Now, if this sounds sort of cheesy and abstract, it kind of is, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of the principle. Hypothetically, most of us think that our dreams and goals are dangling in the distance, so close but so far away. We can see them, we can taste them, but the more we walk towards them they start to fade like a mirage. We run, we scream, we throw up our fists in aggravation, but the image fades every time. That’s alright!
Often, we just need to approach the goal from a different angle. We need to embrace the non-linear path by moving lateral moves.
Take the Scenic Route: Don’t be Afraid to go Sideways
As this heading implies, sometimes a lateral move is necessary to break through a plateau or to get back on the right track to success. And let’s face it: those sideways ventures can become some of the most life-changing and rewarding moments of one’s life.
With sideways moves, what first looked like an obstacle, actually becomes the perfect time to learn valuable lessons and to improve your overall resolve and character. Plus, it can get you out of your comfort zone. All one has to do is change their perceptions about what a detour in life can do for gaining experience and the necessary skills or resources needed to propel past whatever obstacle is in the way. And even sometimes you can skip the obstacle altogether and explore other routes as they present themselves.
Also, think about it this way: if you have a problem to tackle, you can try approaching it head-on. You can keep working at it, determination is a very important skill to cultivate after all. Or you can instead go around the obstacle that stands in your path and explore a new route. You can then approach whatever challenge that you are hung up on from a different angle. And often, what seemed scary and intimidating from the front, usually doesn’t look so bad from other vantage points.
But the biggest lesson to learn from all of this is that there are many options and pathways that will lead to your goals. Not always will they be linear: they will snake this way and that, deviate, bifurcate, twist, turn, tilt, and sometimes look as convoluted as a labyrinth. That’s just a part of the wonderful ride. Don’t be afraid to explore as many as you can. Even if that means backtracking a bit.
And yes, sometimes moving backwards is the only way forwards!
Take Your Losses in Stride: How to ‘Fail’ Productively While You Backtrack
There’s a reason why the word ‘fail’ is surrounded in quotes. When it comes to striving for greatness or trying to achieve goals, there is no such thing as ‘failing’. Any attempt, no matter how small or large is an automatic win. What you essentially did was you generated the courage, energy, or desire to achieve something that is important to you, and you put forth an honest effort. If you fell short of the mark, that’s completely fine. All that matters are that you tried and will try again.
While on your path in life, you will have to backtrack. You will run into dead-ends that require you to turn around and retrace your steps. Sometimes this can hurt. What looked like the right path was something else entirely. But you undoubtedly learned something along the way. Does it make sense to throw the whole experience away, to essentially chalk up your time spent as just a gigantic waste of time just because you failed? Absolutely not.
Instead of throwing away valuable opportunities, we can fail productively. We can take whatever path we walked, and whatever struggles we encountered on that path, and apply it to our lives in a productive manner. And maybe the next fork in the road that we take will be the right one. We can learn to recognize true paths from those that just appear to be the right directions to take. And most of all, we can learn to trust in the journey itself. No one said it would be easy. And like that well-worn statement of old says, “nothing worth having comes easy.”
If we can stay vigilant on our journey, be curious and not afraid to explore sideways, forwards, and backwards, we will find success in its many forms.
Action Steps and Reminders:
1. Success does not always follow a linear path: We will inevitably run into roadblocks and detours. Don’t let this derail your overall plans. Stay consistent and learn from your struggles whenever possible.
2. When you come to a fork in the road, take it: Understand you will have choices to make; instead of stressing or stalling out, make a choice, see where the path takes you, and make the necessary navigational moves.
3. Moving sideways is always an option: You can take the scenic route by going sideways; sometimes all your mind needs to solve a problem or to move past a plateau is a fresh perspective. A sideways direction can help with that.
4. Backtracking is completely fine: Forward progress is a myth more often than not. Remember, there is no such thing as failure, as long as you keep trying. Learn from your failures by failing productively. And do your best to reorient how you perceive failures in general. Human beings function on a trial-and-error basis; that’s just how we learn. We shouldn’t feel ashamed for trying and missing the mark. At least we tried.
[This blog post was partially inspired by The Obstacle is the Way, which was written by Ryan Holiday. Check it out for more concepts and ideas like those that were discussed.]
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