Is There a “Right Path” in Life?

Two paths diverging

It’s common to wonder about your life’s direction at certain ages, during adolescence or at mid-life, but honestly, these big questions are worth asking anytime.

We all want to find meaning and fulfillment, making the best use of our limited time on Earth. We often hear phrases such as “find your passion” or “do what you love,” which make it sound as if finding just the right thing to do in life will fix all of your other problems.

In addition, once we choose a path, we’re often afraid to break from that course, sticking with old routines and habits. We let our fear of the unknown keep us from new experiences. Consider, however, is it realistic to expect one interest or choice to sustain us for decades? Is there really only one path to take?

Common Life Paths

As we go through life, we have to choose from numerous potential paths, each of which gets intertwined with others. For example, picking a job might affect where you live, which in turn could determine where (or if) you meet a life partner. Below you’ll find just a few of the common paths that cause some of our biggest worries.

Career/School

Do you want to go to college? What job is best for you? Do you need a graduate degree? Typically, we make these choices in our late teens or early twenties, but can feel stuck later if we regret that choice.

Family/Marriage/Children

Will you find a mate? Do you even want a long-term partner? How do kids figure into the equation? Sometimes you think you know the answers to these questions — until you enter a relationship. Then, with another person in the picture, these feelings can change.

Social Status and Connections

Do you want to keep up with the Joneses or be your own person? What types of friendships do you value? We often don’t realize we have specific ideas about the network of people we want around us until that network is established and we find it lacking.

Charitable Actions

How will you give back? What contribution will you offer to society? Reaching out to others plays a big role in our sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Faith

Do you have a personal belief system? If so, are you content or doubtful about it? Questions of faith can throw you off kilter, and your relationships with family and friends are often closely tied to your belief system.

What to Do When Doubts Arise

Even when you think you’re sure what you want in life, you may have to dodge some curveballs. Life doesn’t always go as planned, so your path might change whether you want it to or not.

In addition, our brains continue to grow and evolve over the course of our lifespan, so things that mattered earlier may matter less over time, and vice versa. Unfortunately, for some people, losing their sense of meaning with a certain path that seems to matter less that it did formerly, can be extremely destabilizing.

When our opinions and desires change over the years, we sometimes wonder if we’ve wasted our lives, or if we’re missing out on new experiences that seem out of reach. Here’s how to cope when doubts creep in.

  • Explore your feelings without judgment
    Just because you’re thinking of some wild new plan doesn’t mean you have to act on it. Don’t be afraid to entertain new ideas that might upend your life. In fact, pushing these thoughts away might make them more persistent. Allow yourself to dream freely.
  • Explore different facets of life with people you trust
    Again, you can incorporate new ideas or actions without giving up who you were. Try new things with friends or family members who support you, but who can also keep you grounded. Keep an open mind and see what sticks.
  • Forgive yourself
    Sometimes we look for a different road because we regret our previous choices. Unfortunately, instead of embracing that change, we beat ourselves up over the mistakes that led us there. Remember, life is about learning from mistakes, not wallowing in them.

So, Is There a Right Path?

Perhaps writer Anne Sexton captured life’s evolution best when she said, “I am not what I expected.” Who you are now is different from who you were, and who you will become. The short answer is no, there is no “right” path.

The truth is, our journey along the way is what makes us. Sometimes that journey leads us away from what we expected. If you’re looking for complete fulfillment on a perfect path, you’ll be disappointed.

Instead, happiness depends on accepting and enjoying where you find yourself in the moment, not always looking ahead toward a perpetually distant, moving horizon. The only path is the one you’re on right now. If you don’t like the view, try some side roads.

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