The most important things is this: to be able — at any moment — to sacrifice what you are for what you will become. — Eric Thomas
Another rough and steep section of road brought me down to the valley floor and onto a smoother road. I sighed and looked over my shoulder back at the hill, glad to leave behind that awful road. I pedaled half a mile on the new road before I reached back to tap my sleeping bag. Huh? I reached back again. Nothing. I locked up my brakes.
“Where the hell is my sleeping bag?!”
It was rhetoric, frustration, dramatization. I knew where it was: laying on the side of the road where it fell as I crossed a rough patch. I cursed myself for having been so stupid. Everyday the straps had loosened. Everyday I had reached back to check the straps. Everyday I had stopped to wrench the straps tight. Why would I do all of that if I didn’t suspect I might lose my bag? Now it had happened. Now I had to climb back up an incredibly rough road to search for it. I didn’t have the energy or the patience to do it. What choice did I have though? Answer: a simple one.
I turned my bike around and followed my own tracks backwards, through the mud. My head was heavy and wanted to hang, but I held it up as best as I could, keeping an eye out for the white and black stuff sack that held my sleeping bag. Maybe I would get lucky. Maybe it had fallen off recently and I wouldn’t have to back track far. Maybe? Yeah right.
Wait. What was that sound?
ATVs. Three. They came from the direction I should have been heading. I stopped the leader and explained my situation.
“Your sleeping bag?”
“Yeah, I lost it on a rough section of the road but didn’t realize it until a few minutes ago. Can you just keep an eye out for it? If you see it, just set it on the road or if you’re heading back just bring it?”
“Well, I suppose. Which road did you say you came down?”
“There’s a turn just a couple hundred yards from here. I came down the road on the right.”
“Oh, well we are going to the left. Sorry.”
The older guy, mid fifties, pulled away without so much as a goodbye. The next two ATVs followed his lead and their occupants didn’t say anything as they passed and then disappeared over the next hill.
They went on, not wanting to help, not even caring. This was the first time I had asked for help and had not received it. It wasn’t that I had expected them to go out of their way to help me, but a little compassion and empathy would have gone much further than they did. They had had no idea the effort it would take me to backtrack to find something they could retrieve in a few minutes. I hated those ridiculous side-by-side, bench seat ATVs. They didn’t look all-terrain with their small wheels and low ground clearance. Probably modified for a ranch. A tourist ranch. That would explain the kids in the trio. I had probably ran into a family on vacation, out to see the countryside so the parents could instill good values and such in their children, like avoiding weird cyclists in the middle of nowhere.
Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before others’ choices make us. ―Richie Norton
Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed they create our courage and our wisdom. — M. Scott Peck
It’s August — harvest season on the family’s wheat farm. After a quarter century on the farm, I have some experience driving a harvest truck, the trucks that carry grain from the field to the silo.
This year, our truck drivers are all young (ages 15 to 18) and inexperienced. It fell to me to be the mentor and spend some time riding with each driver, trying to teach them good habits and instill good decision-making abilities.
You may be wondering, “How hard can it be to drive a truck?” Well, to be frank, more difficult than you realize. Not only is the agricultural setting intimidating, but our unique environment also adds to the difficulty — we are hillside farmers.
Large, steep hills greatly complicate truck driving. They make rolling a truck a genuine concern. They also stall engines and snap drive lines. They make tires spin out in the middle of a climb. And given the variable contours of our fields, the hills create ditches — some deep, some shallow, some that will high center your truck, some that will suck the rear tires into the mud, some so rough that you crack your exhaust crossing them.
This is the point of mentoring. All of this can be a bit overwhelming — especially if you’re not old enough to have a driver’s license.
But after spending a few days riding around with our three young drivers, I realized they all displayed a similar behavior: following the ruts.
Driving through stubble, you naturally leave tracks behind. But the more you cross stubble, the more flattened and apparent the tracks become. If trucks follow the same route through a patch of stubble, an obvious “road” is developed — a truck road.
Our three young drivers started to develop the tendency to follow these tracks. That was fine with me, especially given how rough the fields were this year. Following an established track where ditches can be filled in makes things go smoother, literally.
However, this tendency to follow tracks became too much of a habit for these drivers… it became the standard by which they drove in the fields — they followed tracks everywhere. This is when it became a problem. Not all tracks were ones that should’ve been followed. But they all three continually tried to follow tracks, to the point that they weren’t willing to pass each other in the field because the truck road wasn’t wide enough. There were literally acres of stubble, the very picture of wide open spaces, with more than enough room for a deep breath of fresh air and certainly more than enough room for two trucks to pass each other… but they wouldn’t leave the tracks.
Given the years of experience I have, this made no sense to me. It took a few days to realize what these guys were actually doing: outsourcing their decision-making.
These guys were all aware of their greenhorn status and didn’t want to make any mistakes (especially when I was with them). So, to them, the safer option was to follow the tracks rather than make their own decisions, decisions that could potentially be wrong.
However, the tracks weren’t always the best route. But that didn’t stop them from trying to stick with it until I called them out and tried to show them why a different direction was better. But every bad decision to follow the tracks flattened the stubble that much more and developed the truck road that much further.
Some behaviors we outgrow… but I’m noticing that there are some behaviors that are scalable — just because we don’t notice them anymore doesn’t necessarily mean that we have outgrown them — we just don’t notice them.
So I have to wonder if, at some point in our lives, we all feel so inexperienced that we just follow the ruts, that we outsource our decision-making to the collective’s habits. This might not always be a bad thing, but what if the rut we choose to follow is a bad one to follow?
Now, the real irony of this behavior was that the truck drivers didn’t seem to remember how these tracks were initially laid down. It was they that made the tracks — but once the tracks were down, they wouldn’t hesitate to follow along. Even if they had made a bad decision in their initial route choice, once the tracks were down they forgot about it… and wouldn’t hesitate to follow those tracks later on.
If it’s possible that we occasionally outsource our decision-making to an established track, isn’t it possible we make this behavior a habit? And isn’t it conceivable that because of this habit, the rut we fall into is the one that we ourselves have dug?
So, have you ever outsourced your decision making? Have you fallen into any ruts?
The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is; and this we can contrive with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star. — Marcel Proust (Remembrance of Things Past)
We are all free to create our own reality, but it’s only when we are bold enough to decondition our thinking, to transcend … the reality tunnel — this linguistic and conceptual and symbolic framework that constructs reality, this “animatrix” pulled in front of your eyes — blinding you from ecstatic visions of what might be behind those walls. We are larvae who haven’t turned themselves into butterflies yet. — Jason Silva
The route transitioned to the highway, which made for an easy climb. The hard surface at a manageable grade had me in good spirits and feeling sorry for the motorcycle owners that passed me, some of them decked out in leather while others pulled trailers. Nine miles of steady pedaling brought me to the Continental Divide. Here, the route followed a dirt road into the mountains. It was not a good road. It was washed out, bumpy, and after a mile of being jarred my legs began to burn. Why was I still climbing if I had already crested the Divide? My question was answered by the road’s first view.
I saw an immensity. Mountains extended past the horizon, each successive ridge achieving a lighter shade of blue until the snow of the furthest peaks couldn’t be distinguished from the distant pale-blue clouds; it was as if the clouds had chosen not to precipitate, but rather just laid themselves directly upon the mountain tops. The pines were a patchwork: green with growth, brown with burning heat, gray with decay, all shades present between the sun and the shade. My road laid at the top of the meadow that extended down slope and fanned out below me. The crisp blades bowed to the wildflower’s blue hue and the patches of dandelions, still yellow in their late bloom. A line of trees wandered through the meadow to mark the path of its stream that was fed by an alpine lake trapped somewhere above me. I couldn’t move. My breathing had stalled until my first, long, deep breath brought the wind and colors and emotions of the mountains into my lungs.
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin
“We might say that both the artist and the neurotic bite off more than they can chew, but the artist spews it back out again and chews it over in an objectified way, as an external, active, work project…”
– Ernest Becker