Ever taken what turned out to be the wrong path? maybe it was all for a reason.
There are times when I’ve wandered away from the glitzy main streets of a city and found myself in a very different environment. An intriguing alleyway has led me to a neighbourhood that felt hostile, threatening and unsafe. Luckily, nothing bad has happened to me and I’ve always managed to retrace my steps out of these dark places and back into the light.
When I’ve reflected on these experiences, I’ve realised that it can be no bad thing to be reminded that many communities still struggle to afford the basics in life, even in some of the world’s wealthiest cities. It’s easy to slip into complacency and to forget to be grateful.
Taking the analogy further, there are times in life when we reach a fork in the road and have to decide which way to go. Not all these choices are significant, but some of them will fundamentally affect the future course of our lives. Typically, they involve relationships, careers or big life changes, so the pressure to get it right can be both exciting and daunting.
Relocation decisions have figured among my biggest dilemmas. Moving to London from my northern English home town in the 1980s was one of those. Over a decade later, an even bigger move, to the other side of the world, taxed my emotions. I wrote about this in my post homesickness, Wigan station, a dream and a cardigan.
feel the fear and just do it – or not?
No matter how much you gather evidence, weigh up the pros and cons, do your research and listen to your gut, the reality is that you can never be sure how things will turn out. You just have to take a leap of faith. And, as the Italian writer Italo Calvino once said, every choice is a renunciation. How true is that! Whatever you choose, you’re usually going to have to give up something. When it’s people and places you love, that can be really tough.
Fortunately, just like my dodgy neighbourhood wanderings on my travels, my big moves turned out just fine. At other times I’ve backed out of opportunities that I might have taken up – postings in New York and Brussels, for example. I sometimes wonder how life might have panned out if I’d said ‘yes’ to those. But I don’t regret my decisions.
So what about those that don’t work out? The paths you take which end up trapping you in a dark place. When no matter how hard you try to make things work, they just don’t – and you find yourself in a spiral of increasing unhappiness. “If you can’t change your circumstances, change your attitude” is a great piece of advice I learned from a brilliant conference speaker called Eugenie Prime. That’s usually my first strategy when I find myself in such situations.
Sometimes even that doesn’t work, however, because the external factors impacting on you are too great to overcome. Even then, it can be hard to give up on something that you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into. Especially when you know that others will be impacted. It can take another leap of faith, a catalyst or a turning point, to convince you to hit ‘reverse’ and get out of there.
the big ‘why’
Afterwards, there’s more reflecting to be done – on what was the point of it all and what you learned from the experience. In some ways, the conclusion is the same as before: it’s a kick up the ass to remind you of how lucky you are, and to give you a fresh appreciation of what you already had.
Over the past few days, a sense of bliss has invaded my life. The sky never looked more blue. Spring roses and lavender were never more fragrant. My neighbourhood was never more beautiful – the mist-topped hills, the glassy bay and the distant restless sea. The love I feel for my partner never felt deeper or more powerful. The dark paths are behind me.
Whether you believe in God, the universe, fate or some other higher being, sometimes they do work in mysterious ways. Spending time in a dark place can bring enlightenment and unparalleled joy to life afterwards, when you escape. It might not be obvious at the time, but it is a gift. Hang in there.
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