By Samantha Solomon
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
This oft-quoted passage from Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” appears on ‘congratulations’ cards and teen girls’ Tumblr posts in such an abundance, it’s hard to separate the wisdom of the words themselves from their cliched overuse.
Even so, many, many people misinterpret this quote, taking it out of its original context in the poem and trying to apply it to some concept of originality and forging one’s own path (ironic, seeing as how it is posted and reposted over and over on various social media sites).
No, this passage is not about the author taking the less transversed road and finding that this is better, to separate from masses, more original, more true to one’s self.
In actuality, the author wants his reader to know that he could have taken any road, any road at all. Any of them, beaten and dusty or overgrown, could have lead to happiness. But one journey can be very distinct from the other, and that is what makes all the difference. The destination, on the other hand, would have been equally as satisfying, equally as fulfilling.
What a refreshing idea! That any path we take could be the right one for us because life is what you make of it.
In a recent conversation I had with Tim McKee, publisher at North Atlantic Books in Berkeley, California, this very topic came up. What was your career trajectory, I asked him, what path did you take in order to become a successful publisher? But Tim wasn’t content to settle on his individual career. He clearly thought that there was no single road to success, especially not in his field. He suggested that as I graduate from college and enter the adult world, I explore a “scattered” path, full of things that interest me, but one with somewhat of a focus, a loose structure with which I can steer my future where I want it to go. No matter where I end up in the end, the journey itself is key.
And I’m willing to bet you’ve heard this before: life is about the journey, not the destination. Even this idea is pretty flawed, in my opinion, because the destination is pretty darn important too. The point of it all is perhaps then that we cannot know where we will end up. What is the endgame of it all?
As long as we take the journey with an open mind and an open heart, the destination will be a pleasurable surprise. We forget that the world is not full of a collective of linear lives, that life itself branches and twists and bridges and fades. Where we will be tomorrow may not be the same as a month from now, and year, 10 years, but that does not mean that we have strayed. Rather, we have leafed and flowered away from our original sturdy trunk, but the outcome is no less beautiful. There is no single branch to follow. There are not even two roads, but an interlacing and intricate highway of possibilities.
The important thing is to know that there is time for all of it. Time for adventure and success, equally. One does not have to choose between the two when one does what they love.