I mentioned that in my house, we’ve “gone primal.” We’re 14 days through the 21-day challenge, and the results are impressive. I’m ten pounds lighter, my belt is a notch tighter, and I feel better. Part of the routine is, of course, exercise. This is something I’ve always been bad at, because I can’t make the time. But being primal doesn’t mean killing yourself on a treadmill 60 minutes a day. That’s actually counterproductive. The principle form of recommended exercise on the Primal Blueprint is to “move frequently at a slow pace.” That, I can handle.

I’ve carved out about 30 minutes every day at lunch time to go walking. I eat at my desk every day anyway, so it’s a welcome break to get out of the office for a bit and get moving. And I’ve discovered that despite my office not being in the most aesthetically pleasing part of Fairfax, there are some decent trails behind the building that allow me to do a couple of laps before heading back to the grind.

The trail behind my office.

Usually, I listen to audiobooks while I’m walking. Yesterday, though, I was audiobook free. I had not only just completed Neal Stephenson’s epic new book, Reamde, but I also forgot my headphones. So I was left with nothing to listen to but silence. And in the silence, I realized how much and how often I distract myself.

Why do I distract myself? Because life often feels out of my control, so I’d prefer escapism. I’d rather listen to that book, watch that show or movie, play that video game, read that article, waste that time on Facebook – you name it. The busier I am, the less bandwidth I have to think about the dissatisfaction that I often feel.

So there I was, walking along, my mind humming. Thinking about where I am in my career, what I need to do differently, what steps I need to take in order to grow. These were good, constructive thoughts, despite how long I seem to have been avoiding them. Change is hard, especially when it involves personal or professional development. Because that kind of growth is often painful. But I found that taking the time to just think things through, I was filled with a new energy. I had new ideas, and a new sense of direction. These were just the first steps, of course, but as the proverb says, the longest journey begins with just one step. So why not take it?

The Narrow Path

Nothing to see out there. Keep your eyes on the road ahead!

As I walked the trail, I found that the kind of metaphors I was looking for were unfolding in front of me, so I pulled out my phone and started snapping pictures. I knew that there was a story being told right in front of me, perhaps even being told to me, and it was a story I wanted to share.

I think that many times, we feel like we have no choice in life. We have to go to this school, take this job, live in this town, follow this certain, prescribed path. We feel as though circumstances have forced our hand. And once we’ve committed to something we felt we had to commit to, we feel like there’s no turning back.

But with very few exceptions, we have a great deal more freedom than we think. We believe we have this narrow road we are forced to go down, and there are no exits in sight. And there’s a reason why we believe that. Because we’re told.

The Rules of the Road

Follow the rules of the road, or you will be penalized!

In rhetoric, we’re told that the argument from authority is the weakest argument. But in reality, we know how strong those arguments can be. We’re raised by parents who use their authority to instill a way of life into us. If we are religious, our faith in God dictates certain precepts that are non-negotiable, and others that are highly recommended if we want to be happy or reach the prize. And frankly, our willingness to submit to authority isn’t entirely a bad thing. Except when it is. We need rules to live productive, happy lives, but we also need to exercise critical thought and independent judgment to live productive, happy lives. But because our earliest impulses are shaped by authority figures – parents, priests, teachers, police, the IRS man – you name it – we are, I think, by nature more prone to doing what people tell us, as long as they can stamp their orders with an official seal. We are less likely to question what we’re told and find out if there might just be a better way.

And that can be a big problem if we really want to achieve our potential. I was listening to the radio yesterday morning, and the DJ was talking about some medical issue. He said, “They say the two people you should never lie to are your doctor and your lawyer…” and as I was listening, I was thinking, “Yeah, he’s probably right. You should…wait a minute. What if I don’t want to tell them everything? What if I don’t appreciate their probing questions? What if I don’t feel like telling them that I have three drinks a night (I no longer do, but I used to) or that I’ve switched to a somewhat controversial high fat, zero-grain diet because I don’t want them harassing me? What if I don’t want to tell them that yes, I may just have another kid even if they think I’ve had enough?”

But my first impulse, the impulse that’s just bred into me, was the desire to do what I was told. As far as I’m concerned, that type of instinct is a huge liability.

The Story Tree

Rules are for people without pocketknives.

Sometimes, the rules keep you safe. Sometimes, they keep you trapped. You need to develop the wisdom to know which thing is true, and when. But you also need to develop the ability to break the rules that need breaking. To step off the path and blaze a trail. To do something different than the thing you feel like you are under an obligation to do.

I’m not advocating irresponsibility. I’m not giving my blessing to leaving your wife for your favorite intern at the office. I’m not saying you should stop feeding your kids, or going to church, or trying to live a virtuous life.

I’m simply saying that if you feel trapped by choices you’ve made, opportunities you’ve missed, and forks in the road you didn’t take, stop and figure out if you can do things differently. Pull your eyes of the narrow path and look for a shortcut through the woods. Carve your name on a tree. Golf where you’re not supposed to golf – if you’re into that sort of thing. You may be pleasantly surprised with what you can accomplish.

And if life tells you a story, pull out your phone and take some pictures. Write down that story, and share it with other people. It’s probably good advice, which is the kind of thing you should never just keep to yourself.

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