Have you ever taken a walk in a park and noticed a dirt path that veers off the paved one, a path created organically by the repetitive shuffling of feet?
In the design world, this is called the desire line, or desire path. Some designers even wait for desire lines to form first and then pave them, instead of trying to anticipate where paths should lay.
Desire lines can be used to track actual versus planned usage in any environment. For example, many web designers look at what sections of websites are clicked on most often to improve usability.
For people who are (still) struggling to find their purpose in life, the desire line can be a powerful concept to apply to the winding paths of your own life.
The paved paths of our lives are the plans, the shoulds, the external voices telling us how to live. They are often quite lovely on the surface: well-maintained, smooth, and safe.
The desire lines are the parts of us we can’t deny. They are the worn dirt paths of our lives, the parts of ourselves we return to time and again, wearing away a path through the woods that suits us even better than our best laid plans.
Finding Our Desire Line
I’ve always envied those people who were born wearing their passion like a badge of honor.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, she says. I wrote my first novel when I was seven years old.
He picked up a set up drumsticks when he was three and the rest is history, the mother says, proudly showing off home videos of her talented toddler pounding out a Metallica song.
For some of us, the fires of desire don’t burn as obviously. For better or worse, we’ve been navigating the paved paths, whether out of fear, a sense of duty, or a simple lack of knowing any better. I’m one of those people, but finding my desire line has helped me to connect with my purpose in life.
How can we find our own desire line?
The Grocery Store Test
When you run into someone you haven’t seen in a while at the grocery store (or yoga studio, neighborhood bar, child’s school play) what do you talk about? For me, it usually takes about two seconds before I gravitate toward the other person’s career. I’ve always had an intuitive knack for sensing someone’s excitement or dismay around their work. I’ll start asking questions about what they love about their job, what they don’t, and before I know it, I’m suggesting next steps to help them improve their job situation (or for students, their college major). Academic and career coaching are my desire line. Notice what you are drawn to talk about or do in your natural setting. Do you find yourself rearranging a friend’s furniture? Have you performed impromptu surgery on seven different animals this year? Desire lines.
The Trusted Confidante
The other night we had a friend over for dinner, a friend who is about to teach her first college course. I had helped her with her syllabus the week before and bombarded her with ideas and websites. When I brought up the topic again that night, my husband stopped me. “Do you realize you are literally licking your lips?” he asked. I hadn’t realized. I was already halfway into the woods, off the paved path, down my desire line. Talking about great teaching excites me and I can do it any day, any time. Great teaching, doing it and helping others do it, is my desire line. Ask someone you love and trust to share what they think lights you up, or as in my case, makes you lick your lips.
Go That Way
I practice yoga, but up until about a year ago, I “did” yoga. From my teachers and my own studies, I’ve learned the difference. We go “that way.” There is both faith and humility in this approach. I practice. I may become a teacher but I will always be a student. I return to my mat and begin again in that moment.
(And yes, as I write this I see another desire line that’s formed for me: yoga. It has leaped off the mat and into every aspect of my life, including my writing.)
Once we’ve established some ideas about our own desire line, we can start walking in that direction. Some of us may take a leap, wholly abandoning our paved path for the dirt one that feels less like a plan and more like a life. Others will place a tentative foot down on their desire line, then scurry back to the safety of pavement, and then repeat as needed. Both people are both moving in the right direction. With faith and humility, keep going that way. Notice how you feel when you are following your desire line. Notice if the universe seems to join you, removing barriers from your new path, sending guides to beckon you along on your journey. Above all, practice.
Shuffle or run, but do it every day. See what forms.
Author: Karen Costa
Editor: Travis May