The Road to Nowhere January 8th, 2010
Across the street from my office building is an empty field which is being developed. I know it is being developed because for the past several months bulldozers and all other manner of heavy duty construction equipment have been building a road on that land. It started out with grading equipment, drainage runoffs, cement trucks, and so on. Now it has curbs, streelights, and a sidewalk. But at the end of it is, well, nothing.
It strikes me as strange to build a road with nothing at the end of it. I suppose I would have expected them to build some sort of temporary passage - a gravel access road, perhaps. And as the project has progressed I’ve continued to be surprised at all the finishing touches that have been added, especially since it continues to lead to nowhere. Why on earth should they go to the trouble to put in sidewalks and streetlamps when clearly this road is getting no traffic? My curiosity has been further piqued by what will be built at the other end.
And then I got to thinking about this construction project as it relates to my own life, metaphorically speaking, that is. How do I go about building my new roads in life? When I want to try something new, do I pick a destination and then build the roads that will get me there? Or do I start preparing the land and let my destination be determined as the road evolves organically? And further still, is one way better than the other?
As with many things, there are probably pros and cons to either approach. On the one hand, having a destination is probably more efficient. I am going “there.” So I should put an intersection here and an off-ramp there. I know what my end goal is and I can map my course accordingly. With a goal in mind I will not be deterred by rough terrain or inclement weather. I can organize my toolkit for this journey at the outset. I can be prepared. I like this approach. I like to be efficient and pragmatic and all manner of similar qualities that lend themselves to the making of spreadsheets.
However, what do I miss in the process? Without a destination I might discover things I didn’t know about. This road-building thing is tough. Lucky for me I found this nice shady picnic spot to stop and take a break. I might discover new things about myself if given the opportunity to wander. I might stumble upon something wonderful that I would have otherwise passed in a blaze of goal-oriented fury. I might meet new people. I read an unusual book. I might, say, start a blog! And I might find those things to be fruitful and satisfying. A pleasant surprise, if you will.
As I mentioned before, in looking at my own approach I definitely fall into the destination category. I’m a planner, a list maker, a goal-setter. But why? How do I know that the plan in my head is the best one? The right one? And what if my vision is too small? What if I create a plan for myself that seems attainable, but could be so much more? (And if I am happy in my life am I just disturbing the peace by asking these questions?)
My life so far has unfolded in much the way I might have guessed had I been asked for my prediction fifteen years ago. A few route changes here and there, but no major diversions or course corrections. Does that mean that my original plan was perfect? That there was no room for improvement? I struggle to accept that this could be the case. And as I consider what other paths I might have taken I’m curious about what I’ve missed along the way. Might I be happier if I’d strayed from the original map? Might I be curled up in the fetal position on the side of the road?
I don’t know. And I won’t. And that’s hard for me. But it spurs me to look for unexpected turnoffs as I move forward. Perhaps I will find that pleasant surprise.