The Man At The Fork In The Road

One day a man was on a journey. He had been on this journey for many days. He had a clear idea of where he wanted to go. He knew this road was the right direction to reach his desired destination, and all he thought of for those many long days was reaching that destination. He had plans and ideas for what he was going to do once he reached the destination, yet letting the terrifying thrill of infinite possibilities work within the unknown side of him. Then, he came to a fork in the road. The man stopped and looked at it, with an air of confusion and uncertainty. The map showed no fork in the road. Looking back up at the fork, he saw no signs pointing to his destination. In fact, he saw no signs at all. He stood, scratching his head, looking up at the void where a sign would usually stand. It was at this moment that he noticed a man sitting at the fork, looking at him.

He was an older man, with a dark beard with specks of gray peppered into it. He was wearing a brown flat cap and a dark dress shirt with a vest. I could see a pocket watch on a chain sticking out of his pocket. He was looking at the man with a soft smile on a his face, with eyes that shone with wisdom and experience. The old man looked at the young man on the journey and asked him, “Where is it that you’re heading?”

The young man looked down at him and softly said, “Well, I was planning on heading towards C-Town, but I don’t know what direction to go. My map doesn’t show a fork in the road.”

The old man laughed. “No one’s map shows them a fork in the road. They never look at the map as an opportunity for new decisions. They look at it as a path from A to B, instead of A to B through C, D, and F.”

The man looked at him confused. “So why is there a fork here if it doesn’t show up on the map?”

The old smiled and said softly, “Because sometimes the road we think we want won’t lead us to the destination we’re meant to be at. The fork gives you a chance to go a different direction, to a destination that may be better than the one you imagined.”

The man stood and looked at the ground, thinking. The fork in the road had slowly started to plant the seed of doubt into his mind. How could he be sure of where he was going if there wasn’t a sign? He looked at the old man and spoke.

“You wouldn’t happen to know where these roads lead to would you?”

“I think I could help.”

“That would be great!”

The old man stood up slowly, stretching out his legs and slowly extending his arms with a long sigh. He stood beside the young man, looking at the fork with his hands on his hips, squinting at the roads multiple times, as if he was trying to remember some long lost secret or story from his childhood. After a few moments of quiet deliberation, he spoke.

“The path to your left leads to where you planned, where you originally desired to go. The path on the right leads to a completely new place, a place where the possibilities are as endless as leaves in the trees of this forest. But, here is the interesting thing about this fork: either choice could lead you to the same place, and yet that place could be different from you originally imagined you’d be.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Sure it does. Just because you make the ‘right’ choice in your mind doesn’t mean you’re going to end up there. Destiny has a way of leading the paths of our lives past the things we thought we wanted and to the places we’re meant to be. You could take the left path, the safe path, and yet you may still end up at a completely different place. You could take the right path, the new and unknown path, and end up somewhere different. Yet both in the end may lead to the same place, even if that place isn’t the one you originally intended it to be. Make sense?”
“Yeah… I think so… So what am I supposed to do? Which one do I choose?”

The old man smiled. “Young man, that’s your decision to make. Either way, it’s an act of faith to step down either road. Do you have faith to pursue the path you thought you wanted, or do you have the faith to step onto a new path? Both paths may lead to the same thing, but each path has it’s own set of challenges. So what are you going to do?”

The man stood, staring at the roads ahead of him. Contemplating. Analyzing. Weighing. Praying. Waiting.

____________________________________________________________________

I am that man at the fork in the road. Most of my adult life I have had this idea of what I was supposed to do. It’s been something that I’ve been thinking about since high school. That idea has motivated and pushed my decision making for the last 5 years. And yet the amazing thing about life is that there are certain moments where one simple statement can shift that idea and put it into question. And now, I’m standing at the fork, unsure of which path to take.

I’ve felt that I had the gift of counseling and helping people ever since I was in high school. It has been my goal since the beginning of college. Every class, job, and opportunity I’ve had has been driving towards that goal. For the past few months working on graduate school applications and studying for entrance exams it’s all I’d thought about. Counseling is just what I thought I was supposed to do. I had never questioned it. But then a handful of people, trusted people who’s opinions I value very highly, said they felt that I should go to graduate school with a focus on writing. This shook me to the core. I had never thought of my writing as something I could do for the rest of my life. Every time I looked at it, it felt like it would never work as career. Every time I thought of a “writer” I imagined that guy sitting at a desk in a tiny apartment, typing on a computer in his underwear, alone. And I never could imagine that person being me. But now, I cannot get that idea out of my head. “Could I really be a writer?” “Do I really have a gift?” “Am I just fooling myself?”

If I was a terrible writer then I wouldn’t even be toying with this notion. But people have repeatedly said that I have a talent for this. Hearing this always fills me with that “Really? You serious…?” kind of reaction. I have had a hard time accepting the fact that I may be good at this. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I may be good at helping people, and now this is throwing me for a loop. You always hear the phrase “Follow your passion, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” I hear that, and when I look to the path on the left, I see counseling, and I do enjoy working with people, helping people. But when I look to the path on the right, I see writing. I see infinite possibilities. I see the unknown. I see something new and exciting. And the strange thing is, when I look at both paths, both terrify me, but for different reasons.

I look at counseling, and I see the familiar. I see dealing with human pain. I see emotional baggage and stress. And yet I see the potential to help people heal, grow, and live with hope and love. But is all that pain and emotion worth the possible catharsis of seeing healing? Is it worth to see the worst of humanity to catch glimpses of hope within it? Do I really have the steadfastness to invest in 100 people and only see 5 of them genuinely change? Is it worth possibly becoming cynical?

I look at writing, and I see the unknown. It’s something that only recently became a part of my life. Half of the time I feel like a talentless poser who has no idea what he’s doing. I see a potentially lonely existence of sitting behind a computer when I could be out in the world interacting with people. And yet, I enjoy it. I see the potential to give a gift to the nameless readers who absorb what I may write that I will never hear about or see. I see the satisfaction of putting the final period on a story. I see dream-like image of a book with my name on it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. I also see failure. I see a book with my name on it being lost among the countless bestsellers and tossed aside into the bargin bin. Is it worth my time and effort to pursue something that may never bring me real success?

An even bigger questions remain: Which of this will be the best use of my gifts? Which will make my life more meaningful and beautiful? Which will allow God to get more glory? Will either really make a difference in people’s lives? Or in mine?

It’s a step of faith in either direction. And who knows? Both paths may lead to the same place, and that place may be entirely different that what I planned. God’s ways are above our ways, and God’s ideas of where we should be always take us places we never thought were possible. I just want to choose the right path.

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