Editor’s note: Mike Masterson is taking the day off. The original version of this column was published on October 9, 2007.
Literature is filled with references to the paths we choose to take throughout life and how those choices inevitably intersect in all directions, thus making all the difference in how our realities unfold.
Every change of direction will lead us to new horizons or different vistas, and sometimes dead ends. Sometimes it can take years to realize where the twisty paths we’ve taken along the way have left us.
I sat in a rocking chair on the deck last week and it took a few minutes to relive some of mine. You might want to do this one day just for perspective.
In my early 20s I was lost and looking for the right transition that would lead to a career. I had failed as a manager trainee at Osco Drug in downtown Little Rock, after being fired for handing out Brach’s basket treats to weary customers waiting in long checkout lines.
I had briefly considered a path to law school and another that would have taken me through the gates of the US Coast Guard Academy. Other paths that caught my fancy meandered to retail and even the workshop.
I finally decided to follow Interstate 40 toward the completion of my undergraduate degree in Conway at Arkansas State College (now the University of Central Arkansas). On the day of registration, I met an instructor named Dean Duncan, sitting behind a folding table beneath a sign that read “Journalism.” Over the next two years, this man would guide me down the path leading to my career.
The path I had chosen would also lead me to the young woman who would become my wife and the mother of my two children.
One by one, the paths I was choosing to follow led to others. Over the years, multiple career and personal paths presented themselves at unexpected moments, each forcing me to confront myself at the deepest levels. Are we going to Dallas? Kansas City? Seattle? Chicago? Phoenix?
In retrospect, I can see that the trick to making the wisest choices at the intersections of these endless roads was more complex with variables than I could have imagined, especially when the decision involved more lives than my own.
The advice I would give to someone now choosing which forces to pursue would be to ask questions that only he or she can answer. Are the detours ahead likely to leave you and those you love more fulfilled and happy than you are now? Is it really worth sacrificing the extra money offered to you where you are today, especially when it will be absorbed in a big city by taxes and additional unforeseen expenses?
There’s more. Will this path lead to a rich life for you and, if important, for those who now rely on you? Is this choice more about salvaging your ego and/or natural insecurities than living with reality? Is it possible that by choosing an apparently dangerous and overcrowded road filled with sharp stones, danger and danger, you will stumble into a deep ravine from which there is no escape? Is this the best path for your career, but perhaps a bad path for the well-being of your relationship with those close to you?
Many of us choose treacherous paths even when it is obvious from the sight of others falling in the distance that they lead to disaster. Later we are inclined to wonder what it was that made us even take the first step in that direction.
Fortunately, I seem to have been blessed with an internal gauge that always let me know when a path seemed right or wrong at the moment. Even when the money was better and “bigger” thrills awaited in another direction, I found myself politely declining and staying the course. I believe most of us have the same kind of personal GPS, if we were to wipe its lens clear enough to follow.
Every time I started down a new path, it always led to others that branched ever further and outward. For example, my decision to leave Hot Springs for Los Angeles led to Chicago, then Arkansas, then Phoenix. And all of this opened up a new path that led me to five rewarding years at Ohio State University.
Those of us who have lived more than a few decades can’t help but wonder where we would be today if we had made just one different choice on the paths of our past. What experiences would have been completely different and what other people might we have met?
There comes a time when the choice of paths is less, and man is content to make distinctions wherever his former paths have led. As varied in height and extent as mine has been, every path I chose at all those intersections eventually converged here on a wooden deck in this rocking chair, where I pondered the significance or futility of each mile.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was the editor of three Arkansas dailies and directed the master’s program in journalism at Ohio State University. Email it to [email protected]
Leave a Reply