Leaving the well-trodden path

The other Saturday I took a short trip to Montara State Beach, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco. It’s one of my favorite beaches, very quiet and you can only access it through a mini-hike on foot, there’re no cars down there. I like to go there to lie down on the sand and nap for some time and read on my Kindle.

On my way to the beach I usually take the well-trodden foot path that many visitors of the beach have paved over the years. Only this time, on my way back to the car, I remembered a story that Leo Babauta kindly shared with me, which will be on the cover of his new book:

The laborer walked through a small forest from his home to the fields where he worked, the same way each day out of routine. The forest was constantly changing, but he didn’t notice.

One day, a tree fell to block his path, and he became upset and kicked the tree. Limping in pain, looking around the forest, he realized he’d allowed his fixed routine to make him angry. And it had stopped him from seeing the changing forest.

His fixed path had killed the forest. He let go of this map, and explored the forest, really seeing it. Free of fixed ideas, he found new possibilities for what the forest could be.

Suddenly, the fields where he worked became fields of possibilities, and he found joy in work. And in his wife, his kids, his neighbors, and himself.

So upon remembering it, I tried to do the same thing. I realized that the hundreds of steps being taken on the very same path over and over again were probably not very caring for the ground. Although the vegetation was just small bushes and not really a big effort to find my way through, it did take me some getting used to.

What was most interesting to observe was how I felt – I felt like I was doing something wrong, something illegal. How could I think of taking a different route directly through the bushes and ignoring the well-trodden, the right path that so many others have taken? And then I remembered the ground again and how that must feel, getting a break from not being trampled on thousands of times from my own and other people’s heavy feet, but instead walking on areas that have never been walked on and would much more easily recover and possibly not take any damage at all.

After I was walking through the bushes for a while, I realized how freeing and exciting it was, compared to walking on the path. I had to watch my every step and try to be careful not to break off too many branches from that small tree or that bush. It was much easier to be fully present and explore directly where I was. I saw a small bunny jumping out in front of me, when I had never realized before that there were any animals in there. I have to admit, I also looked anxiously around a few times whether there’d be any snakes. At the end, although it being a pathetically short, 300m walk through small bushes, I felt like I had been on a mini adventure and I felt truly accomplished and in tune with everything around me.

Then I remembered having had this same feeling for our recent change at Buffer, where we started to work completely without managers, where we made everything we could think of transparent to the public, from salaries to fundraising, to pricing. And I recalled the few moments of the same anxiety of looking around and not seeing anyone else doing what we were doing. The same thought “How dare we leave the well-trodden path?” briefly flashing in front of my eyes, and vanishing faster with every new change that we made, that was different from most, all other companies.

Getting comfortable with leaving the well-trodden path seems to take some time, and applying it to all areas of my life is especially humbling as it feels like a new discovery every time it gets applied to something else. And luckily, whenever I get a moment to be quiet and listen deeply, I notice that nothing feels more “right” and in tune with things around me than doing exactly that – exploring, questioning and finding our own paths, no matter the circumstance.

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“Leaving the well-trodden path” http://t.co/HfBJKCZXO3

— Leo Widrich (@LeoWid) January 6, 2015

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