Blaze Your Own Trail to Change

September 25th, 2012

When it comes to change, there are three paths to take; waiting for life to happen TO you, making things happen, and turning around and wondering what happened. The first path lacks responsibility. The last path lacks intention. The middle path is the way to go. It is for sure the road less traveled, but it’s also the highway to your highest purpose.

The middle path is where the trail blazers head. When you don’t like the path laid out for you, and don’t like any of the other paths on offer, make your own.

In a sense, that’s what we all do, all the time, because no one knows the future. Management guru, Peter Drucker, said,

Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights looking out the back window.

Albert Einstein is said to have performed a thought experiment when he was contemplating relativity. He posed the question: If you were literally riding on the edge of a light beam and you held a mirror in front of you, could you see yourself? And the answer is no. If nothing travels faster than light, light can’t get to the mirror to reflect your reflection, so you would see nothing.

That’s a brilliant metaphor for change. There’s nothing in the future to see. It doesn’t exist yet except as potential. This is why change can be so scary and also why change is SO exciting. You look in the mirror of the future and see open space. No matter how much you wish for certainty, life doesn’t work that way. That’s the scary part. And yet, accepting that the future is unknown is also incredibly empowering. You get to help create what you want to see in the future. You get to help make change happen. That’s why we’re all trailblazer. The question is whether we choose to trail blaze with intention or not.

Emerson said,

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Change happens the same way paths emerge on a campus. At the start of the year, lush green grass represents new beginnings and potential. One person tentatively walks across the grass from one building to another, usually taking the most direct route. Another person takes a different route across the grass. Soon there are several lightly marked paths. People tend to follow the paths laid out. Eventually one clear path across the grass emerges and most people start to use it. No one person created the path. It was co created. And everyone still has a choice where they walk. The point is to choose mindfully and not necessarily follow the pack.

The path from one job to another, or one relationship to another, or any other major life change, is more delicate than a grass path, but similar principles apply. You step out, trust yourself and allow the path to emerge. Change starts within, where you learn to trust your intuition, and then change happens around you. You intuit your next steps and before you know it the future has become a very present reality.

As business strategist Harriet Rubin said,

To see the future you have to travel on the rough edge of experience.

This is how things change. People start talking. People start moving. People get inspired…and change happens. I love the story of Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maatai who pioneered the Greenbelt Movement. She saw a problem, blazed a trail and created change. The problem was that too many trees had been cut down and it was creating all sorts of ecological disaster. She and some friends planted 7 trees. Five of them died. They learnt from this first experience and got more people involved. Since the 1980s, two trees grew to become 30 million trees, in over 20 nations. Lives have been and will be saved because of this effort, as well as preserving the environment.

Did they know they would be so successful? No. They must have doubted the purpose of the whole thing after their first feeble efforts. But they didn’t give up. They blazed a trail, in this case less trail more trees. That’s how change happens. That’s how you predict the future. You help create it.

Leadership expert, Margaret Wheatley said,

The future cannot be determined. It can only be experienced as it is occurring. Life doesn’t know what it will be until it notices what it has become.

So start noticing what you are becoming and be a part of a future that is exciting and sustainable for the greatest number. Find a path that leads you to highest purpose, and if you don’t see one that works for you, blaze your own trail.

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  1. Pippa says:

    Some very dear friends of mine have recently gone to Kenya for three months to further their work  of leadership training amongst the poorest of the poor – the key message of which is about taking responsibility for one’s own life, holding the pen to write one’s story rather than letting someone else write it for you. It’s very simple, very powerful stuff and already there are incredible and inspiring stories of how very “ordinary” people have transformed their and others’ lives. Your  words resonate strongly with what they are doing. I don’t know if it is generally accessible – but if it is, you could try googling “Emerging Leaders” it might take you to their site.  It is work that started very small and has now grown to something amazing – but it still about individuals and what they can do in their lives. what often strikes me when thinking about what they are doing, is that we have a wholly different set of problems in the West – where a sense of “right” and entitlement” plus all the trappings of a modern state, leave a lot of people expecting to be handed their lives on a plate, or for others to take responsibility/blame for them. It seems that people who have with  nothing  often achieve so much more – it’s a crazy world.

  2. Joan Cook-Howe says:

    I have no website to enter in the space above this commentary box…but I will have.  Thanks to Ian’s occasional nudge to “get yourself a blog and put your voice out there, Joan.  I can help you.”  Well, I am getting a picture and brief statement re: the aim of my blog ready.  I expect to be done by next Weds if not sooner.  It is such a small thing to add here, nothing like the wonderful people who went off to Kenya to help the poor.  However, this is my own little new path and it’s important to me.  What I say may touch the heart of another, who will affect the next person and so on.  “For want of a nail a kingdom was lost.”  I forget how that whole tale goes but I truly believe that we are each that needed nail for someone.  It’s up to us to share ourselves.