Do you follow the red line? Do you trace its every angle and hug to each meander? Do you even know which line I’m talking about?
If you’re lost, don’t count yourself alone. I too was ignorant of the red line until recently. To demonstrate, let’s travel through time, back 2 years to when I was a college senior 3 months from graduation. I was passionate about science and would receive a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science. Biology, huh? That should land me a decent paying job right out of college, right?
Frankly, I don’t know. I haven’t even put that degree to use. Two years ago, I began an introspective journey, a very critical evaluation of myself and my values. This culminated in a bike ride along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the longest mountain bike route in the world. Now I spend my days writing, trying to capture that experience and the lessons it taught me.
One lesson I learned: the red line doesn’t own you, so go your own way.
The GDMBR traversed 2700 miles of country roads, forest service roads, single track, and quad track from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide. To guide me, I had a set of 7 maps. Each side of each map was bisected by the “red line,” the route, the path that I was supposed to follow if I was going to claim that I had completed the longest mountain bike route in the world. Hell of a resume entry, right? I suppose it was pretty important to stick to that red line then.
This wasn’t the case though. The map makers couldn’t know what I would be experiencing as I rode, what I would value, what I would hope to gain from the route. The further I rode, the less value I assigned to the red line–I didn’t let the red line dominate my life. On the 40th night of my backcountry-bicycle journey, my last night before finishing, this was the advice I passed on to a pair of cyclists that had just begun their own ride along the GDMBR. It seemed natural to me, even obvious: “Don’t let the red line dominate you.”
I still needed to apply this to the big picture of my life though. When I graduated from high school, I had aspirations to be a writer. I threw those under the bus though when I left for college. I enjoyed science and there was a career to be made in such promising fields as chemistry and biology. Better go that direction, right?
Now, almost two years a post-grad, I can tell you that if it were not for some life-shaking events, I would still be on that path–I would still be following the red line, the line drawn by someone else in a way they saw fit. I would probably be in some stuffy lab in a graduate program where thinking is confined to measurable observations, statistics, and line graphs. I would probably be building my credentials in anticipation of arriving at the red line’s next destination.
This isn’t to say that this particular path, this particular set of life choices is wrong. In fact, I hope to return to graduate school, albeit, to study something different from my Ecology/Wildlife education, something I’m more passionate about. But what I am trying to say is, don’t follow any red line, purple line, pink line, green line, black line. Don’t live up to the expectations set for you by someone else. Live up to your own expectations and go where your passions might lead you–leave behind a line that is its very own shade of you.