On one of my last vacation days this summer, I set out to do a 24-kilometer hike. It would ensure that I met my goal of hiking a certain distance by the end of my Rocky Mountain travels. I approached the trailhead with a heavy pack and a hopeful heart. Ten minutes into my hike, something wonderful happened! I came across a family of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, about seven or eight of them. Right. In. My. Path.
They weren’t startled by my presence, and went about munching greens amid the rocks, unbothered by their new company. I had a choice to make. I could snap a quick photo and be on my way (it was a tight schedule if I was to make it back by dark), or I could hang out with wild Bighorn Sheep. It was a no-brainer. I went with the sheep.
This meant I couldn’t be sure I’d meet my hiking distance goal. But the overall point of this particular vacation wasn’t logging a certain number of steps; it was to reconnect with nature. And nature was literally staring me right in the face. I took off my heavy hiking pack and found a comfortable flat rock to sit on and enjoy the presence of these magnificent creatures. I did so for two hours.
There have been times in my life when I wouldn’t have let myself change my mind. A set goal would have stuck rigidly in the foreground, blocking all other (potentially better) options. But sometimes an even better opportunity lands in your lap and you have to decide which road to take. What a wonderful problem to have – to choose between something good and something even better.
If you’ve ever had a plan, but unexpectedly found yourself in a toss-up situation, these words are for you: It’s okay to change your mind. Ambitious and rigid goal-setters (like myself) may find this tough to grasp. Sometimes we get tunnel vision in our ambitious pursuits, and fail to consider the changing landscape around us.
Sticking to your goals is certainly a good thing. But reframing or redefining your goals can also be good, especially if a better opportunity arises. People evolve over time, and so it’s natural that your goals may evolve over time, too. Stubbornly sticking to a pre-determined path is downright silly if that’s no longer the path you want to be on.
Consider some of the big picture choices that people make: Do I pursue a graduate degree now or use this time to have children? Do I keep the steady job or move across the country to pursue something else. Which choice is the better option depends on the person.
Of course, stakes like these are certainly higher than choosing between a hike and a sheep. I once chose to leave a solid, well-paying job in which I was well-respected and worked with people I genuinely liked. But I felt pulled toward something else, and so I left to pursue something different entirely. Was it a gamble? Absolutely. Do I regret it? Not for a second.
Each time I’ve mustered the guts to choose something I felt drawn toward, but wasn’t a part of the original plan, I have been rewarded with more joy in my life. Don’t get me wrong, the joy is often preceded by absolute terror and uncertainty, but the joy is worth the temporary discomfort. Plus, when I choose the path that feels right, I’m never haunted by the question, “what if?” Nobody wants to look back 10, 20, 30 years from now with regret.
But don’t you still have to have a plan, say, for a big choice about your career? Isn’t it irresponsible to just throw caution to the wind? Yes and no. You should absolutely listen to your gut, but it’s best when the gut and brain work as a team. A major choice like a career change requires first figuring out what you want (gut), and then figuring out how to make it happen (brain). If you go purely on gut, you may find yourself up and quitting your job, with no plan to pay the bills. If you go purely on brain, you’re likely to reason yourself into sticking only with the surest, safest thing, despite your desires.
Whether it’s a choice about what you do with your day or what you do with your career, each choice you make determines the course of your life. I wish you the clarity to see the choices available to you, and the courage to let your gut have a say in the outcome. The choice is yours.
Published at Huffington Post.