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The Clear Path

“We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” — Robert Brault

I have a work friend who works at a frenetic pace. He’s constantly charging from one thing to the next, in a hyper-reactive state trying to do more than one ought to aspire to in a day. His favorite self-depreciating joke is to turn his head sideways and yell “Squirrel!” and take a step in that direction. In a way that’s exactly what he’s doing with his time. Despite his best intentions, the chase becomes his day, the path always changing in crisis mode. His answer is to work even harder.

The world wants us to fall in line, to play our part, to belong to something bigger than ourselves. The trouble starts when we aspire to greater things. We might decide what to be and head down the path to being it, but there are so many seemingly urgent distractions along the way. Greater things call to us, but good enough is so very much closer.

Every day we check the boxes: writing, exercise, flossing, etc. that move us from this to that. Incremental progress isn’t a leap, but it’s progress nonetheless. We are, after all, on the path to our goal. But is it enough? Baby steps aren’t quite a stride, let alone a leap. But it helps if those baby steps go in the direction we’re aiming at. Save the squirrel chase for some other day.

There’s something to be said for upping the ante. When we aren’t progressing forward quickly enough we may choose to take a leap: Sign up for a 5K, or a writing class in Paris, or make a bet with a friend with stakes high enough to make you uncomfortable (like donating money to a candidate you despise if you don’t hit your goal by a certain date). These stakes aren’t a clear path, but they sure help us focus on it.

Life flies right on by, whether we chase our dreams or not. We ought to pursue the greater at the expense of the lesser. This begins with ratcheting up those incremental habits to something more like a stride, or even a leap. We’re less likely to stray down a side path when we’re charging along towards our primary goal. Raise the stakes, and the path becomes clear.

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