Imagine if life were a marathon.
There’s a start, a finish, and the faster you run, the further you go:
The secret to winning a marathon is to knuckle down and keep going.
Most of us live like this, but reality isn’t so two dimensional. Real life has no signs, and no straight lines. There’s just a maze of infinite options:
Some paths, like some careers, take five times longer to get where you want.?Some paths, like some relationships, are dead ends.
If you were teaching a robot to navigate a maze, you wouldn’t tell it to always run forward. You’d teach it to remember where it’s going, and when it gets stuck, to go back and try a different path.
As people, we’re really good at the running forward part. With a clear stretch, we can soar ahead for miles. But we hate – we’re literally fearful?– of backtracking.
To go back suggests we’ve failed, that our judgement was flawed, that our time was wasted. And the painful thing is – that’s usually true. But it doesn’t matter. The maze just is. You can back up and get on with it, or you can stay stuck in the wrong place.
No-one knows whether the turn they take next is the right one. We should expect to get lost and backtrack all the time. In fact, everybody does – it’s just by looking up at people who are way over here:
We’re blinded to the real, confused route that they took:
There are only two ways to advance your life: move forward when you can, or step backwards and try something else when you can’t. The greatest mistake to make is standing still.
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