Destination Unknown

Destination Unknown

I remember the first time I encountered Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. I was in 6th grade and Miss Clark had given us the poem to memorize. When I shared this news with my dad, he instantly perked up (let’s face it, elementary school homework doesn’t often elicit parental joy). But this time? Here was his favorite poem — something he could share with his daughter in the form of homework disguised as life lesson. He sat with me as I attempted to commit each line to memory, reciting the verses ad nauseam.

” I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

And it worked. This one line became my compass at pivotal points in life: contemplating college and graduate school options or the difficult decision of whether to accept a position in New York City, try to stick it out in Boston or move back to California. In those moments, I kept coming back to the divergent roads, knowing that the path I chose would have a profound impact on the direction my life would take. The thing is, sometimes it’s easy to see the choice — the two options that lay before you. But what happens when you don’t see the road? What happens when you just feel stuck?

I left New Jersey six weeks ago, Seattle-bound for a memoir writing workshop that most certainly changed my writing life. It was the combination of practical writing advice along with the more ethereal “how to harness your creativity, find your voice and stay true to your passion” advice. I left the Cascades feeling liberating and full of possibility. I wasn’t necessarily dialed into a clear writing direction, but I felt like I was onto something.

Then I went…blank.

The roads were gone and the fork in the road? Vanished.

I stood wading through my own thoughts, unable to articulate what had happened. Attempts to draw strength from my motivational mantra? I grew ornery and despondent: if any road will get you there, but I don’t see a path and everything around me is blurred, how do I move forward? Where’s that poem Robert Frost?

I found the answer in the form of my breath. Unable to think my way out of a paper bag, I focused on the rise and fall of my belly. Being present and mindful, I found my deeply battered, hidden intuition. Emotions quickly followed: fear of failure, doubt in my ability as a writer and shame that I’m 36 years old and don’t have my life figured out (compounded by the realization that I’m too old for a quarter-life crisis and too young for its midlife counterpart). But once I could acknowledge where I was without judgement, I was able to see that I was well and truly stuck. And while it sucked and made me want to crawl out of my skin, I couldn’t wish it away. I had to accept it was there. It is, after all, what it is.

Keeping that phrase in my mind the next day, I sat down to read a book. As I finished a chapter, I felt a small weight release from my shoulders and a spark to pick up a pen and write.

It is, what it is. I still don’t see the path, but I’m trusting it’s underneath my feet. And when I get to that fork in the road I’ll be ready, poem in hand.

Hooking back up with the stellar writers who blog over at Yeah Write.

108 thoughts on “Destination Unknown

  1. Trust that the road is there even when you can’t see it, maybe it’s time to dwell within the great oaks that stand at the side of the road. Have you read Kate Chopin’s short prose piece ‘Reflection’? Your post reminded me of it. Thank you for sharing.

    • I love this concept (of dwelling within the great oaks)! I haven’t read any Kate Chopin, but “The Awakening” was recently recommended to me by a dear friend and it’s on my to-read list. I’ll be adding this one as well. Thanks for the suggestion!

      • In fact, it was on the very last page of The Awakening that I came across her piece of prose Reflection. Just this little one pager tucked in at the end, separate from the novel. I remember writing it out in a little notebook where I kept quotes and sayings because it was so poignant. Not every edition has it in the back, but if it isn’t in the one you read, you will find it online, it’s not a book, just a kind of prose poem I guess.

        After I responded, I had to laugh at myself, rereading at the top of your page tree-hugger and I thought, yes of course, that’s why the image of oaks came to me on reading your post. 🙂 Be steadfast, soak up their prana!

      • I’ll definitely be on the look-out for that version (I sense a quest that involves secondhand book stores brewing). Like you, I’m a big fan of keeping quotes and sayings that resonate — I feel like Kate Chopin is coming back around to me as a gentle prodding to pick up The Awakening.

        As for soaking up tree prana — did you see this recent article about tree hugging being validated by science? Score one for the tree huggers!

      • Love the link, thank you! About time there was validation of the positive vibrational energy of trees and humans out there!

        I think maybe our apartment contains an energy, my 10 year old tried to hug the building when we arrive home from holiday this week, I knew just what he was feeling and he wanted to express it physically!

      • Amen to that!

        I love that your 10-year old hugged the building — chances are there is some wood framing somewhere in the structure. I can definitely see it sending positive vibrations from somewhere in there.

    • That’s awesome to hear, Jen. I think when we look back at those choices, by and large, we’re pleased with the outcome. And while it’s hard to have that perspective when we’re in the thick of it, if we pause and reflect we can find our way.

    • That may be true, but I think as long as we’re trying to find our passion and follow our hearts, we can have a rich, fulfilling life. I’m holding out hope!

  2. Oh man, I hear you. I’m thirty and deal with so much shame that my life isn’t figured out yet. Where’s the road I’m supposed to take? I feel like I’m fumbling around in the dark.

    • Judging our feelings and feeling shameful can be a gut-wrenching feeling, right? Once you can find a way to pause and be with the feeling of, what I can only describe as “icky-ness”, you can find the way forward. It sounds weird, but I’m finding that it works. Treat yourself with loving kindness — you deserve it. As for the road, it’ll turn up. Who knows? We may find we were on it all along, but just couldn’t see it.

  3. I assigned a similar assignment to my college level literature students, and for the most part they loved it! I like your idea about breathing in and out what we need to deal with as writers. We get stuck. We get unstuck. Hope you get out of the muck soon! Great post!

    • Thanks, Julie! I feel like I’m getting there. And I can’t ask for more than that. 🙂

      PS — love that you gave a similar assignment to your students!

    • You are so right! We make decisions based on where we are and the direction we want to go. There’s no guarantee it’ll be a straight path or a visible one, but we will get there! 🙂

  4. This is great Erin. I think the temptation for most people (and me too) is to measure our lives by achievement, when really all great things come from simply looking into what makes our own hearts/minds hum.

    • Thanks, Joe. I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment. Our culture celebrates achievement and striving, often at the expense of our heart/mind/spirit. But if we can just tune into that part of ourselves, oh the places we’ll go.

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  6. Don’t you hate that. When you have those moments that a laser sharp and in focus — only to feel so unfocused and discouraged the next day. I guess we all need to keep plugging away even when we don’t feel inspired. Wonderful writing and emotions I could so identify with.

    • Thank you! It’s so funny how the times where we need to dig deep are the times that everything feels so shallow. The beauty is knowing we’ve all been there and can support each other through the ups and downs.

  7. A little trust, a little adventure plus a little creativity … if it’s not the road for you, you’ll soon know it (and you know that already methinks).
    Your post had me thinking too and that’s no bad thing.
    Don’t be too obsessed with the road thing, give yourself a chance.
    I love roads and paths and adventures, but sometimes it’s a bout a little bit more doncha think?
    Whoops, there’s me ramblin’ on as if I know what I’m talking about.

  8. Well done Erin!!! It takes so much courage to
    be willing to show up for ALL of it. I loved “unable to think my way out of a paper bag…” – oh man, I SO get that. I was moved by your reflections about your dad. Keep on keep’ on
    lady, you’re awesome!!!

  9. Hey, I was in Miss Clark’s class too. She did not give me as cool of a poem, or I think I would’ve remembered it. (This is Molly, FYI). My wordpress account is not my name, it is this funny little symbol you see because it is made for any woman who wants to post on it. (I’m changing that to any person, because, well, I’m still the primary poster). I have felt the way you explain so often recently and feel like a scared little girl (but again, too old to be that scared little girl). I’ve found more and more the people I thought “had it all sorted out” feel the same way too. Life is nothing without risks. Mine has taken me to Hawai’i, Holland, Belgium, and beyond. I’m glad we’re still friends–via internet anyway. I’m glad we both take risks. (Belgium was the wrong decision, but I never would’ve known if I hadn’t gone). And I’m glad we both find peace with the pen (keyboard?). Excellent post Erin.

    • Molly! It’s funny, I remember that poem and Miss Clark together, they’re forever linked in my mind somehow. That and the country reports, the presidential debate and that horrible prank I pulled on Julia Berg (shudder). I can still see her dark, shoulder length hair and this pink dress she always used to wear — I thought she was so chic. But I digress…

      And I didn’t know you were a WordPresser — I will definitely check out your blog. Funny you mention feeling scared and uncertain about the direction life will take you — I’ve seen your posts on FB and thought, “man, she’s so got it all figured out and living life to the fullest, setting out bravely to all sorts of exotic locales.” I suppose we see in others what we feel is missing in our own lives, but I’ve learned (or am still learning) how to stop comparing or measuring my life’s achievements to others. It’s hard in a society/culture that reinforces that mindset at every turn.

      I’m glad we’re still friends too, and that we were able to reconnect through the beauty of the internet and social media after losing touch for a spell. Hopefully one of these days we’ll be able to catch up in real life.

  10. Sometimes it means seeing situations presented to you and you simply have to fly with …as long as you keep your health and some finances on the side. Being 36 is different from 16.

    Achievement does need to be each on our own terms but it’s walking 2 roads simultaneously: what we absolutely need to do to stay alive, (have some food, roof, be warm and be safe) and following the better path of wishes.

    Honest, it doesn’t help to claim “follow your dreams”, instead follow the best good values that you hold onto that help you live the life that you want and for your loved ones.

    Cycling in the wind @54 while going to work to earn money and cycling from work to dream away on other more fun journeys. Then blog away about my passions. 😀 30 yrs. ago I never dreamt I would …have returned to cycling (car-free life) and blogging since I also enjoy writing, etc.

    • Thanks, Jean! I love that you’ve found a way to marry your passion with your day job. But I respectfully disagree with your assertion that it doesn’t help to claim “follow your dreams”. We get one shot at this lifetime, so why not follow our bliss, the “things” that makes us come alive and utilizes the unique gifts each of us were given?

      I understand the need for security (steady paycheck, insurance, housing), but we’ve bought into this idea for a life trajectory, but how many people are truly happy with where they are right now? I’m not saying it can all be solved by everyone packing it in and following their dreams on a grandiose scale — it could be a small change for some, and a major life overhaul for others.

  11. After I left college, having earned two degrees, one in liberal arts and the other in economics, I found my true love: mathematical physics. After I got a well paying job, I started going to classes at night for math and physics. Unfortunately, upper level physics courses were not offered at night. So I made the difficult decision to put aside my dream of being a physicist and pursue my doctorate degree in economic.

    I was always quite sure I would end up a professor, and after being accepted into a top twenty school, I became excited for finally starting the journey I knew I was born to walk.

    But then came the day. I still remember it like it was yesterday: every sight, every smell, the temperature, EVERYTHING. I will not relate all this in detail though. It is enough to say that the end result of this day was realizing that I felt economics was a pseudoscience and I did not care to pursue it.

    (If you’re interested in the “why,” you should visit my blog because I’ve made a few posts concerning it).

    The months that followed after were worse than anything I have experienced, too bad for me to wish upon my worst enemy. I have always lived with the specter of suicide superimposed upon my thoughts, a palimpsest of whispers telling me how easy it would be, but during those days the impetus to leave this world was like a raging torrent tossing me about its crests and troughs, mercilessly and apathetically.

    That is when I turned to writing. But, much like you, I often do not see the road for which I had always hoped my writing would take me. It’s hard, knowing I gave up my dream of becoming a professor, and now writing as if I’ll ever actually make it. And if I do not make it, what then? Can I coast to the end of my life only to die a failure? It’s hard. It’s hard not seeing the road. So I hope you find it, and, if you’re not too busy, let me know where it is.

    Julien Haller

    • Julien, thanks for sharing your story with me — it’s raw and honest and I think the very real side of following your dream, your passion, your bliss. There is no guarantee the path will be easy or visible. But, setting aside fear and having the courage to strike out is to be commended (not to mention, your way with words is truly beautiful).

      You bring up an interesting point about being a failure. I think that’s the judgment and pressure that we need to avoid — it can be toxic and put us into a “trance of unworthiness” (I’m currently reading Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance). I’m finding that by being at peace with were I am in the present moment, not thinking about what happened in the past or being attached to what the future outcome will be, I can live in the present moment with loving kindness to myself and others. In that space, I can be free to create without letting external forces derail me. Not to say I’ve mastered this by any means. It’s a process, but one worth pursuing.

  12. We ALL go through times we just don’t know where we’re headed OR if where we’re headed is in the right direction. I think its called; Life. Even some of the greatest greats will admit; they dealt with rejection after rejection and failing before they go to called success. What I think we’re meant to do? Is try to enjoy, in some even small way, every single experience we experience . Even during lost times or moments or uncertain; there is always a silver lining. Some positive point about it..A lesson to be learned somewhere deep beneath the mud or funkiness. Or what we perceive as mud..What I’ve learned? Is getting through those times? Made me so, so strong , determined!, and self-motivated to do just about anything my mind can imagine. And I’m doing that these days..One day? You’ll look back on this time & realize whatever the lesson was to be learned. Excellent way to write-through-it-while-you’re-going-through-it! I do that also from time2time and its an awesome release…2 thumbs UP

  13. I’m still in my 20’s, although I ask myself what have I done so far?, what’s the purpose of my life, what have I achieved and so on… I feel miserable sometimes.. but it’s only when I’m living with no goals or plans for future, or not engaging with proper work that would let me feel determined. just like you did, I’m now focusing on things that would make a change in me.. I finished some articles without giving myself frequent breaks and once It’s all done I now feel that weight release from my shoulders.

    “It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.” -Franklin, Benjamin.

  14. I also read this poem in high school. i absolutely feel in love with it immediately as it pulled me in without notice. it taught me that although my friends at the time took the common path there was nothing wrong with me taken the road ” less traveled by”. still on that road i find there are no bumps, detours, traffic, etc if you catch my drift. thank you hun for such a beautiful insight.

    • Isn’t that the truth? It is so much easier to recognize in others what we can’t see in ourselves. But if we treated ourselves with the kindness and compassion we show others? Imagine what we could achieve!

  15. Great post… I did that poem at school as well and it is one of the few things that actually stayed with me. It’s always struck a chord and been a way to live my life, though I think that even when you don’t feel you are going anywhere you are still building something, consciously or not, even if it may seem intangible or out of reach at the time.

  16. I found your post so very appealing in its style and authenticity. I really like the way you recount your inner contemplations without feeling the need to supply answers. I can really relate to stuck and acceptance. Breathing helps. Sometimes we only see the path when we look backwards. Oh! It was there all along!
    . Thank you for sharing your writing gifts with the world. And may you find many blessings on your journey!

  17. Maybe your words echoed in the quiet corners of my heart because we share a poem like an old friend. Perhaps your words are familiar for our similarities in age and lingering fears. Still I like to think that what resonates most is our placement on unclear paths at similar points of uncertainty. Beautiful.

  18. This was beautiful. I am exactly at the same point in my life right now. I’m dying to leave New Jersey too. This piece really spoke to me. Robert Frost and John Steinbeck are my heroes. My apologies, I’m completely scatter brained =] Just keep writing…

  19. The thing about paths is that someone has already traveled them and they may not be the path you seek. At a fork in the road, there are more than 2 choices – sometimes we need to ignore even the less traveled road, get off into the wild and blaze our own. Adventure, creativity, and life dwindle if we continuously travel the same path.

  20. I am at this point somewhat myself, I know where I want to end up I just have no clue how to get there. I have learned life is made up of little everyday choices that when put together lead to big events. Everyday I have made steps toward my goals(Even if its only in choosing to stick with my dreams for another day). You hardly ever count the miles between where you want to go when you drive somewhere, you just drive till you get there. Hope that helps. Awesome blog by the way.

  21. Hello I’m a ‘newbie’ here and you happen to interest me with your blog. I must say your piece was really something! I was amazed by how you deliver your thoughts. Keep it up!

  22. The road more traveled is no clearer. For that path is trampled and the good and bad way points are no easier to find. There is little or no advantage there unless one considers the herd mentality a form of security. Stay your own path.

  23. Hi,

    Just wanted to say this is a great piece! The picture got my attention as this is one of my favourite poems too and then I got sucked in to your writing piece.



  24. We all have those moments in our life when the path is just not there, or maybe, rather that we do not see it! I think it forces us to reflect and take stock!
    Good luck!

  25. Read somewhere that living your life is like driving in the dark with just your headlights on, from the east coast to the west……. it takes a while to reach there……you dont see the route ahead clearly, but you do see the next 200 ft or so very clearly and the next 200 ft open up as u go……so life’s like that, the next step or steps will unfold as you keep going.
    Arise, Awake and stop not till the goal is reached……. in fact enjoy the journey since THE GOAL IS THE JOURNEY itself!

    • I’d never thought of it in that way (driving w/ headlights) — but it really is the perfect analogy. And yes, the journey is the destination. It can be hard to remember that when you’re in the throes of it, but so true!

  26. Erin, you are a real awesome writer! I wish I could write more like you on my blog, I was attracted to yours because of this quote, it is definitely one of my favourites! I’m trying to get my life all set up, but I can’t help feeling somewhat fearful of taking the road less traveled… (although I simply love the quote) I don’t think I have the strength to do anything other than what seems to be the ‘correct’ road… What do you think about that, or is it just me? Am I stronger than I think I am? Hope you’ll answer to this… 😀

  27. Reblogged this on middlekingdom1of10boyz and commented:
    Where has the road you traveled taken you? My destination is no where close to where I thought the road was taking me. I am exactly where I need to be, when I need to be there, and the road didn’t look like it was taking me there.

  28. I love how you bring the focus back to the breath – sometimes it’s the most crucial yet overlooked thing in our lives that help us find strength. 🙂 I, like many others, have felt like I’ve lost the path, but even the small branches, the little diversions, can be such an eye-opening and affirming experience! Thank you for such a thoughtful post this morning – I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of your writing. 🙂

  29. I once quoted this poem in a scholarship interview (and got the scholarship), only to drop the course, move to Australia and pursue something completely different. We may encounter many roadblocks and forks on our journey through life, but be encouraged that there’s bound to be something new and exciting waiting around the bend.

  30. Pingback: Embarking on a Hero’s Journey | this would make a great story...

  31. The title of this post, to some degree, contradicts with the content. You were giving us the impression about an “unknown destination” which you probably may have been trekking only to give us a clear picture of what it actually was by mentioning Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” by which it has to imply that “the one (road) less traveled by” must be taken. But you were able to mix it beautifully well in the middle and that’s just what made this post great.

  32. Either my choice is simple or your style is magnificient. From all the beautiful things that you shared, what inspired me the most was the beginning. It just touches you and takes you to that special place.

  33. I really don’t know what to say. But, I am saying this anyway: Follow your heart but also do the logic. If you’re wrong, then feel no regrets because you followed your instinct.

  34. This is truly beautiful! I think we all feel like this at some point in our lives. I feel like that now as a recent college graduate trying to maneuver to my next chapter in life. This poem has so much truth..

  35. Enjoyed this post a lot and the comments too. There is no age limit to feeling stuck. As you get older, you realize this is part of living. Don’t panic. Breathe. Just as you did. Be quiet and take one step forward in the right direction. At least what feels right to you at that time. This too will pass. Everything is temporary. Good luck to you!

  36. “Suppose you are lost in the jungle. You want to find your way out and reach the ocean but don’t know which way to go. What do you do? The answer is to keep moving ahead, taking a course that leads to a river….The important this is to keep pressing forward…even if it’s only one or two inches. If you do so, when you look back, you’ll see that you have actually made your way through the jungle in no time.” -Daisaku Ikeda. Continue enjoying where you are now while moving forward, and trust that your feet will lead you exactly where you need to be. It may not be clear now, but when you look back, it will be.

  37. I had a wonderful time reading your post. It’s true that there will be times when you won’t be able to see the destination of the choice you made and it’s perfectly alright. I believe that the trick there is to choose the lesser evil, enjoy the ride and everything will turn out exactly the way you want it.

  38. Pingback: Destination Unknown | francine klysen

  39. Pingback: Destination Unknown | francine klysen

  40. Always a planned life is not really exciting..sometimes taking risks and going for the unknown destinations ..taking the unknown path..may lead to a more interesting successful and happy never know..:) loved your article 🙂 keep it up ! 🙂

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