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January 25, 2022

Why we Should (Always) Take the Hard Road.

This may not be the road that I planned to be on. This may not be the road that I hoped or expected to be on, however, this is the road I’m on.

This is the road that I chose.

Thirty-nine months ago, I left behind the world as I knew it. I quit my job, sold my home and everything in it, and threw myself out into the world to see what would happen. I didn’t make this leap into the uncharted alone, though. I had a very willing accomplice—my extraordinary partner and companion.

At first, there was a little bit of discord, as you could imagine, between Betty and I. We were out there on our own and we were vulnerable. Everything was a challenge and every fear and every problem was magnified. What could possibly go wrong?

The truth is, this has become a mental and spiritual journey as much as a physical one. As with any great journey, it answers questions that, in the beginning, no one thought to ask. But to answer those questions—let alone hear them—I had to look within myself. Circumstances and people provided the questions, but I had to provide the answers.

December 9, 2018.

While camping in Chisos Basin at Big Bend National Park in Texas, we found ourselves in a conversation with an individual camping near us. We discovered that this person was—much like us—temporarily living in their minivan and traveling and exploring the country. This human being had a palpable peaceful and calm, quiet confidence about them. There didn’t seem to be an ounce of hubris in this person, unlike anything I had ever encountered. That brief exchange stuck with me.

Two to three weeks later, we were eating at a busy pizza place in Tucson, Arizona, when I noticed someone walk in wearing a backpack. They had a demeanor about them and a look in their eyes that I had seen before. It was evident that this person knew how to load and wear their pack, however, they also didn’t quite look like a long-distance backpacker.

The Arizona Trail is an 800-mile hiking trail that runs the length of that state and is near Tucson, but it was also December, which is not a normal time for hikers to be coming through the area. I was curious. I was intrigued.

This patron went to the soda fountain so I took that opportunity to approach them in an attempt to appease my curiosity. I got next to them at the fountain and before I could say a word, they began talking to me!

This person—completely unprompted, I might add—disclosed that they had sold all of their possessions and they were traveling the country by bus. They would stop and explore and sometimes work somewhere for a while until moving on to the next place. In their own words, “If I could give anybody any advice it would be to travel. See things and meet people. It’s not like they think it is out there.” After a kind and mutual farewell, they were gone. I had barely spoken a word.

Both of these people had a type of peace and calmness and quiet confidence that seemed to emanate from every pore of their beings. I would think of them often and wondered how they got to be that way. How did these two lives find such inner peace and calmness far greater than anything I had ever encountered, either in myself or anyone else I have ever met?

These two brief encounters, as unremarkable as they appeared on the surface, had taken up residence in my mind for some unknown reason. Maybe it was because these two events took place as we were losing direction and hope on our journey. We were getting tired and the stress was mounting from all of the discomfort and the unceasing challenges that this new life presented. But maybe it was something else entirely.

It took me a few months, but I eventually began to understand it. Little by little, what had bewildered me about these two encounters began to make sense—although, to get to the answers I first had to understand the unspoken questions.

There are times in life when we come to a crossroads. Major decisions and life events are, of course, potential turning points in our lives but how many other intersections do we rush through without even noticing? How many other moments in life are viable crossroads that we never even recognize? How many defining moments are missed only because we don’t see them as such?

Standing at the crossroads.

Taking the road straight before us is the road to our wants and desires. To the right is the advice and the opinions and aspirations—and peer pressure—of our friends, family, and society. To the left is the road less traveled, the unknown road, or the hard road. This road is paved with challenges and fears. We spend so much time and energy avoiding this way, but maybe it’s exactly where we should be going.

We are always seeking or pursuing comfort and avoiding our fears, but it is in accepting challenges and facing our fears that we learn who we really are. We can break or fold under the pressure or we can learn to lean into it and see what it has to teach us about ourselves.

Take the hard road, the demanding road, the unfamiliar road—it’s the road of discovery. On this road, challenges can’t be sidestepped so they must be dealt with. It is where fears must be faced because they can’t be avoided. It is where we can understand how to find comfort in the uncomfortable. It is where we can figure out how to pivot, adjust, and adapt to circumstances. It is where problems may cease to be problems, but just another thing to figure out. It’s the road where possibilities can be seen, rather than limitations.

When we can grasp the uncomfortable, instead of trying to elude it, we can give ourselves the ability to overcome challenges and every single moment can teach us something personal. On this road is where we can find ourselves.

We should intentionally take the hard road more often because there is a certain level of peace that comes with being able to accept and even embrace the unknown. There is a certain calmness that takes over when we are constantly faced with different, intimidating or always evolving events, yet we feel we have the ability to be able to navigate through them just fine.

There is a certain quiet confidence that develops when—much like I’m certain these two people discovered—we feel like we are able to take whatever life throws at us, look it in the eyes, and peacefully, calmly, and assuredly say, “It’s okay, I got this.”

How many lessons do we miss while we’re trying to avoid discomfort? Where are the crossroads and what do we do when we get there?

I get it now. I found my answers.

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