Helen Keller once said, "We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world." I would amend that statement to include "and if we never got off the beaten path."
If we try, we can remember our own past bravery as a way to help us feel more courageous as we contemplate stepping onto the road less taken.
Sometimes, though, when we look back on our life, we can only remember the times things didn't work out. And those memories can get in the way of choosing to be brave today.
We say to ourselves: Things went wrong in the past, what if things go wrong again?
Things haven't always worked out great for me. When I returned from Mexico after working with Doctors Without Borders, I had no job waiting for me. My husband wasn't working and we had used up all of our savings.
As soon as I got back to the States I applied for every job in the nursing field I could find – even jobs that were way below my level of expertise (and former earnings). I went 2 months before I received a job offer.
The job was as a community health nurse. It would have required working 5 days a week, with very little time involved in actual patient care because it required a lot of travel and paperwork.
I knew I needed the income but when offered the position, I just couldn't accept it. Every fiber of my being knew that I would be miserable at that job. I thanked the nurse manager but declined the offer, hung up the phone, and BURST into tears.
I felt cursed by the warnings of my father and so many well-meaning others who had told me that I was foolish for quitting my good job to take a volunteer position in Mexico, and that I was crazy to think that I could find an even better job on my return.
All that is to say that I am familiar with the demons of grief, anxiety, self-doubt and despair that can haunt you when you get off the beaten path. Very familiar.
My leaps of faith and acts of bravery haven't always worked out exactly the way I had hoped. In fact they've often found me down on my knees in despair asking God how I could have been brought this far to fail.
Another month after that "down on my knees" dark place, I did get my dream job, working as a nurse-midwife for a busy hospital-based birthing center that cares for predominantly Latina patients – working 24 hours a week for more pay than I made working 50-60 hours a week in my former midwifery position.
I worked that job happily for 8 years before I decided that it was time to leave it for my next leap – where you find me today.
And, yes, one year after quitting that job, this particular leap hasn't worked out exactly the way I hoped either.
My experience of the road less taken has not always been filled with bright sunshine and frolicking unicorns. And yet, when I finally stopped fighting the questions and the doubts and the fears and allowed myself to simply be sad or confused, I realized that everything actually was okay.
Even when things are not at all the way I want and expect them to be, they are still okay.
"Things are still okay"? What does that mean?
What it means to me is that I can focus on what I am doing and-most importantly-how I am doing it, and then I can let go of needing to control, or even worry about, the outcome.
I have survived failures before, and I will survive them again.
And I practice remembering that things always get better, eventually.
As a character says in Kate DiCamillo's children's story, The Tale of Despereux, there are many wonderful things out there to be afraid of. But your regrets about the past or worries about the future probably don't make the grade.
In these instances, recognizing your fears for what they are-stories about the past that might not now apply, or stories about the future that might never come true-will help.
The Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho has said, "Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not, then it's not the end." I've contemplated that quote enough in good times that it helps me to keep putting one foot in front of the other when things get tough off the beaten path.
What about you? What helps you feel brave as you travel the road less taken? Please share your challenges and triumphs in the comments!