There are many forks in the trail of life; rarely is a path straight and simple.
Sometimes we can see what lies ahead and sometimes we cannot.
Oftentimes, the destinations that will lead us to the most magic are those we can’t even imagine.
I’m not much of a hiker. I’d like to be more so, but a knee injury prevented me from hiking much for many years. That is now healed, and I’m getting back into it.
Whenever I do hike, I like to make sure that I do so safely. The two most important things for me when going on a hike are to have a support system—someone who’s not going with me, but who knows where I’m going, when I might be back, and who would be willing to come save me if need be—and to gather as much information about the hike as possible before heading out.
Sometimes on a hike, we come to forks in the trail. With our support system in place and some information gathered, we can confidently choose which fork to take.
The last hike I went on was in Southern Oregon with one of my best friends on a beautiful mountain. We came to a fork in the trail and chose the more interesting looking way. We knew her boyfriend knew where we were, and I had looked at the map before we left, so there was confidence in our choice. It turned out to be an amazing hike.
We come to small forks in the trail of life everyday—where to go for dinner, to work out or to watch Netflix, to call friends or read a book at home. The list can go on and on, but usually, the choice is simple.
Sometimes, the forks in the trail are bigger—what job to take, where to move, or if we should go on a date with the potential partner of our dreams. In these cases, making the decision can feel heavy. And just like when hiking a tough trail, we can look to a support system and gather information to figure out which way to go.
There was a time when I was at one of those bigger intersections myself, the kind that feels like it can only exist in some big South American city—seven roads, no stop signs or lights, and absolutely no idea which road to take. My life was falling apart. The nice straight trail I had planned to take of getting my Ph.D. and teaching at a university had now made an unexpected turn with multiple forks around the bend.
My graduate advisor’s life was falling apart. Within the span of a month, both of his parents (who lived in Taiwan) were diagnosed with cancer. His marriage fell apart as well. One night he needed to go to the emergency room, and the only person he had to call was me—his only graduate student. I advised him to go home to Taiwan, to take care of his parents, and that I should be the least of his worries.
Although I knew that to be true, I was then left dealing with worries of my own about what to do with myself and which path I should take in my suddenly-forked trail.
I scrambled. I stressed. I cried. It was a rough few months as I wrote up my work into a master’s thesis instead of a Ph.D.
There were many trails I could have taken. Some I could see clearly down, like going to a new school and finishing my Ph.D., which looked the closest to my original destination. Another option was a job at an aquarium, something I already knew I loved.
There was one more trail to choose, though, and this one was too long and winding for me to see down. Not only could I not see it clearly, but there was a big body of water to navigate through to get there.
The unknown road led to Hawaii. I had never been there and had a tough time imagining the destination. What would my life look like when I got there? It also would mean leaving my friends and family behind on the East Coast and moving halfway across the planet.
The invite to go down that road was also a bit strange. A person who had never even seen my resume offered me the job after one seemingly random—at the time I didn’t know my advisor had called her over few weeks before—very brief phone call. I almost didn’t think it was a real possibility, and for a while I ignored it.
Finally, one night, I called my dad to discuss my options. He’s always been one of my most trusted advisors and a great source of support. After debating about all the other options, he asked me about the Hawaii offer. I told him that I did not think it was realistic, that it didn’t even seem like a real job offer. I also expressed my concerns about moving so far away. He told me nobody gets a job offer in Hawaii, and that if I went and I hated it, he would gladly pay for me to come home.
I got off the phone and thought about it. I started looking up information about living in Hawaii. I looked into what it would entail to sell my house, uproot my life and move halfway across the world. I thankfully received a second phone call from my potential boss and kept her on long enough to find out exactly what the job entailed.
There were still uncertainties. I still couldn’t see the end of the road way out there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However, with my support system in place and a decent amount of information gathered, I peered down the trail a little longer and then decided to take that fork.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
When we come to forks in the road, especially those big important ones, we often want to make the safe decision. We want to go down the trails where we can see the destination. Sometimes, though, the best destinations are down the windier trails, the darker trails, the trails that may take some courage or a leap of faith to explore. With our support system in place and at least a bit of information to help us along, those decisions to be more adventurous become easier and often lead to the most magical destinations.
When we face a fork in the trail—whether on a hike or in our lives—have the courage to choose the trails that may seem more exciting or uncertain, but keep some of that hiking wisdom in mind as you go to ensure you have the safety and support you need to succeed.
Author: Gin Carter
Image: Matthew Kalapuch/Unsplash
Apprentice Editor: Kristen Dobson; Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Danielle Beutell