I’ve been walking the square mile section gravel roads near my two-week home away from home every day since getting here. Not only is the physical exercise good for me, but just getting up and giving my brain some real downtime has proven invaluable in so many ways.
I don’t know why in the world so many Sesame Street memories are part of this writing retreat, but I just can’t shake all these funny little bits and pieces that seem to be relevant to my current mental state.
Yesterday, I was walking and noticed how many different signs are on these four, relatively un-trafficked roads. I was struck by how they relate to my life and thought you might find some commonalities, too.
There’s little ambiguity about this sign—this is not a rambling, take your time, I hardly noticed it occurred curve but an angle just short of a right angle. In other words, you don’t have a lot of time to consider changing direction, or you’ll end up in a ditch or worse.
What decisions or opportunities are presenting themselves that don’t give you much wiggle room for negotiation or contemplation? What has shown up with little to no announcement, and left you with only one realistic option—to turn that one single way—to keep moving forward?
This sign offers a bit more flexibility and choice; a little bit more Robert Frost and his “The Road Not Taken” option. The intersection sign invites you to decide between two equally inviting directions, but it very clearly does not allow you to choose both.
Where in your life are you balancing two separate but seemingly equal options? Leave your good, safe job to venture onto a risky but potentially rewarding entrepreneurial venture? Sell your perfectly fine house and leave your perfectly fine city to jump into new adventures in a new place and city? Not all intersections are the change-your-life, uber weighty ones; sometimes they are as simple as abandoning your longtime great hairstyle for a more daring pixie cut. Stop purchasing season tickets to something you enjoy and put that money into something you’ve never tried before.
According to the Pennsylvania Highways manual, “The Right Reverse Turn Sign shall be authorized for use where two turns or a curve and a turn in opposite directions as defined in the warrants for Turn and Curve signs are separated by a tangent of less than 600 feet. It shall be used when the first turn or curve is to the right.”
Often, we think we’ve anticipated the obstacles that are ahead of a risky or daring decision. But an experience in life like this sign can throw us for a loop. We expect curves from time to time, but we don’t expect a curve shortly followed by a complete turn. That’s when the phrase “came out of left field” feels appropriate.
You quit your job, knowing that money is going to be tight while you ramp up your new business. You get comfortable making small sacrifices because you planned for that, but you don’t anticipate needing to purchase a new hot water heater or getting into the fender bender that somehow totals your car or that late night call from your child asking to borrow money or…
Also, for $1,000,000, I couldn’t have told you that that was what this sign meant. You learn something new every day!
According to Dictionary.com, Yield has two definitions in its verb form:
- produce or provide (a natural, agricultural, or industrial product).”The land yields grapes and tobacco.”
- give way to arguments, demands, or pressure.
It’s funny that I have been situated in this agricultural surround for nearly a week now and completely forgot the first definition of yield until I came across it.
Are you producing and providing in meaningful, sustaining, nourishing ways, either for yourself and/or for others? What are you giving to your significant other, children, parents, colleagues, neighbors, community? Are you so overwhelmed that you’ve stopped feeling useful or generous or present?
Then guess what? The second definition of yield is a great one for you to focus on today. You can slow down, let go of various demands for a moment, take some pressure off of yourself from time to time. Remember, if your oxygen mask isn’t secured first, how can you hope to be helpful to those around you?
Find one thing you can just let go of, and try it for one week. If you step away for a brief time, you will come back restored, or you will realize that you don’t want to go forward with it. But you can’t know that if you refuse to pause and assess it in the first place. There’s tremendous power in slowing down and letting things go—you’ll be amazed at the doors it opens for you. So much of what we think we “have to do” are things we simply haven’t stopped doing and things that actually aren’t serving our highest, best selves.
When I was little and religiously watched Miss America with my mom (because let’s not forget, I was somehow going to be her one day), my favorite moment was when they were down to the final two. The announcer would say, “The runner up is incredibly important because if the reigning Miss American can not or will not perform her duties, she will step in.”
What if you don’t kind of slow down, kind of take a pause, kind of let go of something but just outright stop doing it? What are you doing in your life that you dread? That saps your joy? That depletes you and leaves nothing left? Can you just stop it entirely?
If you stop, one of two things will very likely happen:
- Someone else will step in and pick up whatever you have definitively put down, or
- Whatever you put down will go away or cease to exist. And that’s ok. Not everything we do actually serves much of a purpose and even good things can be discontinued. Much of what we deem “necessary” is, in fact, not necessary at all.
According to the website “The Best of Signs,” “Property owners have greater legal recourse if they have the properly written notices posted.”
What aspects of your life are non-negotiable? Where are you unwilling to curve, make an abrupt turn, choose between two paths, slow down or stop because you’ve made it very clear from the outset that you are not considering an alternative of any kind?
There’s no shame in being intractable about some things.
I think my mother-in-law is somewhat confounded by my vegetarianism, but after the first time we went there, when I waited for her to go into the kitchen so I could pass whatever meat was on my plate to my now-husband, I got brave and said, “I don’t eat meat, thank you, but these potatoes look fabulous!” Now, she doesn’t purchase and make meat for me, and I don’t have to force my husband to wolf down double the portion he started with (although I don’t remember him complaining about that “perk” the first time we were there.).
Eating meat is a no trespassing sign for me. I don’t mind if others eat it around me; I even cook it for my husband from time to time, but I don’t eat it. I don’t apologize for my decision, and it’s not up for debate at any table I join. Period.
There are other, significant areas of my life that are also off limits for other’s to share their opinions or try to goad me into changing, but you get the general idea.
In the five walks I have taken since arriving here, I have seen 4 pickup trucks, 2 semis and 6 combines rumble past me, kicking up dirt that swirls around me, making me look like Pigpen from Charlie Brown.
If our lives are like these roads—relatively quiet and little traveled by others, then these signs can seem unnecessary or even silly. But every life, regardless its size or scale, has complexities and unexpected outcomes. If we stop to consider the value of these signs and how they apply to our own lives, we might just find that traveling life’s path is a little bit easier and a whole lot more intentional as we move towards our final destination.
Read Day VIII: Phyllis sits at the head of the table