“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that made all the difference”.
This quote out of Robert Frost’s, The Road Not Taken is one of my favourites.
And it’s coupled to a quote that has directed my own life for the past 17 years – “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” Henry David Thoreau.
I know that to some I probably sound melodramatic when I say that Thoreau’s words left me terrified.
But they did.
The truth of it was that I didn’t want to die a nobody. I didn’t want to leave this world without having played my song and lived my passion. I wanted to be somebody that made a mark.
Of course, ‘making my mark’ was pure ego coupled with deep vanity. It’s an illusion. Time will erase all vanity. Seriously, who’ll remember Plato, Aristotle and Jan van Riebeeck in a thousand years?
I would guess that even recent history is dimmed for most of us.
Indulge me and answer these questions (without having to Google them). Who was the first prime minister of South Africa? Who was the first person to find gold in Johannesburg? Who invented television? Who was your first teacher? Who invented the Internet?
These people fundamentally impacted us. Yet, I’d hazard a guess that most of us wouldn’t be able to name them with any certainty.
So, leaving a mark and making a difference is a whimsical idea that cannot stand the test of time.
So if leaving your mark is off the table, what does one do?
The only thing one can do in my opinion. Play your song. Find that thing that makes your heart sing and do it. I made that call 17 years ago. My song was to write. And, write is what I did. I’ve penned millions of words in that time. Are they any good? I don’t know? Are they going to be remembered? I doubt it? Do I care? No? Because I’m doing what I really want to do and it makes me happy. And, when I’m happy, everyone around me is happy.
Thoreau’s words don’t leave me in terror anymore.
Of course, following one’s passion is never easy. Most of us don’t take the road less travelled and follow our bliss. It is easier to go with the flow. It is easier to bow to our parents’ dreams for us and take on a career that they want for us, rather than following our own path. It is easier to fit in than stand out and sing our own song.
My view is that we have such a short time to play the song that sits in our heart. Whilst it’s not easy to take a different road, a road less travelled, it must be a whole lot better to sing the song you want to than to lead a life of quiet desperation
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost