I know no one who dislikes Robert Frost’s iconic poem, The Road Not Taken. In it the narrator ruminates over which of two similar yet divergent roads he should travel knowing he is unlikely to ever return to see where the other might lead. What might he be missing? They appear to be about the same, but the narrator must choose or remain “cosmopic,” or unable to choose, as Jacob Horner, John Barth’s protagonist suffers in one of my favorite books, The End of the Road. For me, both the poem and the novel are compelling. Both have become, over the years, fundamental to how I think about my own future and my decision-making.
Things go horribly wrong for Jacob Horner. He chooses. He acts and the outcome is tragic. Frost’s narrator chooses as well, but ponders in the fall of his life in that “yellow wood” what he may be missing. But, indeed, he chooses. Will he, like Jacob Horner, discover tragedy? Or, as he tries to peer around the bend in the road ahead to glimpse his future will he discover something uplifting? The narrator does not know, so he quietly laments that he will likely never know if the other road would have been a better choice. Nevertheless, like Jacob Horner, he too chooses.
To choose or not to choose? To remain catatonic or act not knowing what the outcome will be? Fear the future or embrace the unknown? It is risky as Jacob Horner finds out. Yet, the alternative, to do nothing is just as risky. This is why The Road Not Taken resonates. Yes, the other road may be better, but it might be worse as well. But, doing nothing offers no hope. Choose a path. Embrace whatever you face. Use the experience to strengthen your character and when the road diverges again choose without regret knowing at the end is a different you, a better you.
How do I know this is true? Because like you, my entire life has been a road taken or not. I have been formed by the experience of choosing and my individuality has been preserved. I am better for it. Today, I can ask for no better road to be on than the one with the Greater Impact Foundation. In the 1970s I had to make a choice between teaching in Cali, Colombia and joining the circus (that is another story.) I chose the latter, but often wondered what might have been. I cannot help but think four decades later that I would have missed the opportunity to work on behalf of the Foundation had I chosen the former. Perhaps another choice would have still lead to where I am today. I do not know. But, I am where I am and I love it. The opportunity to positively impact those in greatest need is the most gratifying endeavor I have ever undertaken. Life is full of choices. Choosing wisely is often difficult when one cannot see around the bend, when one is not clairvoyant. But, acting, making choices has proven that whatever road one chooses can lead to a better place.