Lists, Steps, and Paths

Lists, Steps, and Paths

My oldest is a senior in high school this year. Last night she was sharing about some of the items currently on her to do list. She has checklist after checklist of things to get done so she keeps up on the senior year/preparing for college path.

I’ll be giving several talks at a local high school next week and am currently working on my presentation, going back and forth on what gems of wisdom to share that I’ve learned on the path of life (clearly laid out in a bullet point list on a slide, of course).

I’m also working my way through various finance books. I’m finding lots of useful information, along with various checklists of things to follow and items to do to ensure a “healthy and secure financial future”.

Lists, lists, and more lists. Step after step after step. Do this and then this and then this. Take these steps, follow this path, and things will work out.

I came across a quote by Joseph Campbell (noted at the end) and got to thinking about all of these lists and shoulds and steps and paths we encounter. I thought about myself at the end of high school and into college, and the checklist and path I was looking at then. It went something to the tune of: get into a good college and then do well, get a job and work hard so I do well, have a family at some point, keep working hard, periodically go on vacation, and keep on keeping on working hard so things go well.

I’d bet a lot of my friends had similar lists and paths to follow at the time. I’d bet a lot of people still have similar sorts of lists, the path for a “good” day/week/life with the steps to follow at least somewhat laid out (wake up at this time, follow this diet, do these activities, say this to your kids, etc).

Then life goes sideways, our proverbial car bumping along the road (and maybe we wonder if we’re about to lose some wheels). What did we do wrong? Because we had a list of the steps! A list of steps to follow! The path was laid out!!

Yes, lists and steps and paths can be helpful. Sometimes an outside idea is just what we need to get us unstuck. Getting advice from someone who’s been around the block can help us save time and pain, shortening our learning curve. AND — we all have our own learning curve. We all have our own path. (And even the person who wrote the list and laid out a path — the list is a refined and distilled version of what he/she has learned — I’d bet his/her own journey was/is messier.)

What if we reminded ourselves (and our teens!) that lists and steps and paths are ideas and suggestions of things we could do? And many of the ideas may be helpful and useful, and could be worth considering, though they are still ideas and suggestions. And sometimes it’s okay to throw out our list and take a different path, and sometimes we’ll want to make sure we have a list to look at and path to follow.

What if we allowed space and breathing room while we’re looking at the lists and steps, especially when feeling uncertain, fearful, or seemingly “off track”? And what if we remembered that life is messy — for everyone? It’s an adventure game that we’re playing, and we’ve already passed with flying colors.

For my own teen, I know she is and will be fine, regardless of what specifically happens with her lists and if every item gets done (or not). For my presentations, I’m going to nix including a long list for the path of life — and mention a couple things as ideas and suggestions. And on the finance learning, I’ll see what I can do from those lists, one baby step at a time.

Note to self: You’re doing okay on your path. Keep stepping.

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path. (Joseph Campbell)


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