Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Road Less Travelled

Out and having dinner last night (a Carvery, my first!), I heard a lovely summation of an itch I’ve been turning back to for the past few weeks: living a life with bravery. 
There are a lot of things set out there that will hold us back, but on the top of the list is our very own concept of self. If we perceive ourselves as people who cannot take risks within our own lives, and additionally, perceive ourselves as people without the possibility of community, then we end up living on a road that we never really planned; one that we just keep following until our old age, when we look back and say, where was my control? Where was my influence?
The aspect with which I struggle the most is the risk of relying on created community. We are surrounded by different levels of community in our day to day: family community, customer community, city community, friendships, even similar interests. Over the past year, I am reminded of some of my feelings of isolation, being so far from a community that I know offers continuous support. I am also struck with the tremendous formation of a community around me, one that I have allowed myself by taking risks with new relationships here in a new country. I’ve taken the primary risk and formed those relationships, but there’s a secondary risk waiting, one that is harder for us all to take, and that’s the belief that our worth as people and individuals in a community is powerful enough to drive that community to support us in our braver, chaotic, sometimes spontaneous decisions. 
Take for example the move “Waitress”. Staring Keri Russell, this film features a woman who is stuck in a relationship and a job. She has a tremendous skill for making incredible pies, but hasn’t gone anywhere with her potential. She is with an abusive husband, and is pregnant with his child. Now all this time, she has been saving up money that she keeps secret from everyone else. This money is her parachute, her get-away fund. She plans a careful escape, and I want to note here, that at this point, these decisions are not flimsy. In fact, it takes tremendous character to make a decision of freedom and to work towards that decision in a way that you deem stable; it is frightening to face the unknown, and even tickling it is commendable. But of course, even our most decisive moves can’t always play out as we please; her husband finds the money (taking away her safety net), and she is left with a pregnancy, a hard job, and an incredibly frightening situation. 
Let’s skip to the decision that Russell’s character makes towards the end of the movie, one that is unplanned but demonstrates the kind of risk taking and bravery that truly tests a community. Russell gives birth to her baby, and without her safety net savings, tells the father in no uncertain terms to sod off. This leaves her without the security of a house, finances, or potentially a job (considering the employability of new mothers in low socioeconomic situations). And the incredible thing is, taking this risk, she opens herself up to a new pathway in life. The community surrounds her, uplifts her, and she finds a way to make a life out of a very spontaneous decision. I guess the point here isn’t so much that our communities will never fail us, because I don’t think that’s a realistic view of the world. It’s much more so the idea that taking a risk for the benefit of your life path is worth the potential fall out--and is better than the alternative of steady stagnation. Now there’s a brave thought. 
A friend of mine at this point notes that such decisions are like approaches to the swimming pool. You can inch in slowly, becoming accustomed to each temperature and depth change, until you are fully immersed and swimming. Or you can take the shock and jump in the deep end of the decision. The latter puts you in a situation where you might drown; but you reach success far more quickly than the inching method, and there isn’t as much space for you to be drawn away from your goals. An interesting model. 
Now in addition to the community aspect, there’s the vision that we have of ourselves and the possibilities that we create, and here we face another challenge. It is easy to see the path that we already occupy. We can even define it as a sort of continuous mix of choice mingling with things that have simply happened, and often we have several concrete sticking points; I have to do this job to pay these bills, I have to stay with this person to reach these goals, I have to continue in this career path because I lack experience in others...and the list goes on. 
The challenge is in seeing the paths that are, to us, outliers. They lie beyond the wall of risk and in the vision of brave choice in our lives; it’s the black area that you have yet to explore on the new level of your video game. We just need to understand the greatness that can come from this exploration, and respect ourselves and our capabilities enough to give self commendation when we take a step forward in this direction. 
So when do we wrestle the reigns away from our imagined controllers and start driving our own lives forward? I don’t have a complete answer, but I know it involves becoming open to discomfort and possible failure. I think a large portion of it, too, lies in understanding that when we picture a worst case scenario, we can’t possibly picture every unknown factor that will inevitably enter into the situation (every relationship that has ever swept you off your feet, for example). It is so, so hard to inspire someone when you are being carried yourself, and the same applies to your personal inspiration. If you are floating along, carrying yourself on a tide of stagnation and moderate decisions, then you are never going to shock or stretch yourself into realising your own incredible potential. So that’s my challenge to myself in these upcoming weeks, and my challenge to you, as well. In what ways do you desire to change your path? How will you be brave?


  1. It's important though not to fall into the trap of a false dichotomy where we believe ourselves to only have two choices. We are rarely in a simple situation of "take the plunge or don't". As you say :"The challenge is in seeing the paths that are, to us, outliers" and it is with this that I think asking for help from your friends is so important. While you have to ultimately make the decision for yourself, it's so important that you talk to people about your options. They are not in your situation; they are observers. As such they are able to be far more objective than you ever can be and will often see options for you, which you never realised you had.

  2. To paraphrase Linden, 'a friend’s eye is a good mirror.' In assessing our life situation, our perceptions are bounded and assumptions are biased. Community enables us to better appreciate our past, present, and future. To alter the metaphor, a friend is a scout that can observe those outlying paths at the blackened edges of your map. For a sentence or two it seemed that you discounted the value of being “propped up” by a community. One does not become uninspiring if they rely on a little help from their friends; it is when they depend on others to the point of becoming burdensome that they should be criticized. Remember, you wrote of Russell’s character, “The community surrounds her, uplifts her.” We all rely on the work and experience of others, be it academic, artistic, political, or even romantic to better our intellects and ultimately our actions. Stand on the shoulders of a giant and try to feel uninspired.

    I don’t think we ever wrestle complete control of our live from the powers that be. By bold and purposeful action we can exact a driving influence over the direction of our lives but destination is ultimately unknowable. Sure, any rational person can imagine their life course with a degree of reasonability but as new data comes to us (via our own perceptions and our community’s) our expectations change; therefore… ever in motion is the future.
    Long way for a Star Wars reference.
    PS: New content demanded