“Am I on the right path?”
This is a difficult, if not impossible, question to answer. Whether one is looking at faith, career choices, education, or personal choices, there always seems to be room for doubt. Have we made the right choice or choices? Are we doing the right thing? I don’t mean morally right, but the most correct and most direct way to reach our goal or goals. For that matter, have we even chosen the correct goal? In Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy says we are drowning in a sea of good choices. And even if we do choose the correct way, have we chosen the correct way of reaching it? Here are some other questions to make things more complicated.
Why do I want this?
Is the reason for wanting what I want valid?
Why is this taking so long?
Are there signs that tell me if I’m doing the right or wrong thing?
What do I do when two people I trust have different opinions about my goals?
Why do some people seem to be immediately successful while others struggle for months and years and some never seem to find success at all?
Why is it so hard sometimes?
I don’t have the answers to all these questions, but I have some guidelines that have helped me. These are guidelines not rules.
First, how does it feel to have that goal? Does it feel good? Does it create enthusiasm, a sense of direction, and peace all at the same time? For example, when I think about my house on the beach and what I want in it, I feel all of those things. It’s not just the house itself, but what it represents to me – the culmination of all my current goals and the beginning of new goals.
I have often used my initial feelings to help me clarify what I want and don’t want. If, without thinking, I feel excitement for something, it’s probably worth pursuing. On the other hand, if the idea makes me cringe then, though I might try to talk myself into trying to feel otherwise, it’s probably not a good idea.
Another indicator is the ability to deal with difficulties that arise on the way to reaching a goal. Difficulties can be indicators that we have chosen the wrong path. Or they may be tests of our resolve. What am I willing to endure in order to reach my goal? How long am I willing to wait? How much time will I put in? What am I willing to give up?
In the book of Job, after the title character was hit with more troubles in one day than most of us will experience in a lifetime, including financial ruin, health problems, and the death of all his adult children, Job’s “comforters” said his troubles were a sign of God’s displeasure. God was indeed displeased – with the simplistic thinking of Job’s friends, but not with Job himself.
On the other hand, troubles can be a way to cause us to seek God and the right path. After 9/11 church attendance went up significantly…for a while anyway. I knew a man who had trouble finding work for several months. One day he went to his pastor and his pastor told him that he had strayed from God and needed to start walking in faith again. This rang true for the man and he started reading his Bible again. Three days later he got a job.
Normally a story like that would drive me crazy, because it’s too pat and too simplistic, but sometimes the answers really are very simple. Sometimes.
Even good events aren’t always signs of being on the right path. Once, when I thought I was supposed to go to China to teach English as a missionary, I got a postcard from a student in China saying they needed American teachers. This card came the very next day after making the decision to go. This was, to me, a sure sign that God wanted me to go. How could it be otherwise? Things turned out differently. The missions group that was pursuing me so enthusiastically suddenly stopped calling. I finally had to call them to find out that they didn’t want me after all, and I never really knew why. I know now that this rejection may have been best, but it was confusing and painful at the time, especially because the signs seemed so clear.
Other people aren’t always helpful either. A decision to move forward in life can create different responses from those we love. We assume that our closest friends want the best for us, but when two close friends have opposite responses, it can be confusing at best and painful at worst.
In the end, my final decision comes down to just that – a decision. I decide that to take a certain path and to not deviate from it, no matter what. So, despite fear, doubt, less support than I’d like (but the right support from the right people), despite waiting, despite a busy schedule, troubles, or fatigue, I Get Started and I Keep Going. I still want my house on the beach. I still want to spend my life with my Muse. This is what feels right, and though I have had troubles, they haven’t felt like signs of God’s disapproval. They have felt like tests of character and resolve.