It’s not just a moving poem by Robert Frost, nor is it merely one of my father’s favorites. People tend to confuse it with the book by M. Scott Peck, and easily pass over it as a florid work of art, not one of the wisest commentaries on how to live. I would argue it’s probably the best consideration one might contemplate when thinking about healthy living and fitness.
Sociological laws push people into common and basic behaviors. Then people repeat them. And, therefore, people tend to interface with the same problems, challenges, and outcomes for life.
But what about that road not taken?
I hear people talk about themselves as an unmoving and non-growing entity, and I cringe. “I always,” they begin a sentence. I shudder. “I’ve always,” they say. I wince. “I never,” they boast. Ouch. Always and never? Well, you can replace yourself with a robot then.
Humans can be dynamic if you’d like to join us. An automaton can occupy that static position of zero growth you keep talking about.
People cling to labels in order to fool themselves into a delusion of permanence. Everything is impermanent, folks. And if you were to actually carry the same exact thinking and personality traits your whole life, what a sad and tiny life that would be. You’re a person, not a printing press.
But I get it: it’s scary. Stepping into reality is anxiety-producing. It’s safer and more predictable to every day recreate a fictional narrative about who we’ve “always been.” You’ve haven’t ever been anything. Human beings aren’t products. They’re processes. There are so few cells in your body today which existed 10 years ago. And in 10 years this “self” you’re trying to convince us all about will be almost completely revised with different cells.
You haven’t always been any one thing. You won’t always be any one thing. In the time it took you to get from that last sentence to this one, you are a different physical specimen. No, seriously. Hundreds of trillions of nucleotide changes just occurred inside of you. This isn’t opinion. This is scientific reality.
But the ego doesn’t like science. It doesn’t enjoy the idea that every next moment is an opportunity to be someone else. So we choose not to be. We create incredibly complex sophistications to justify why we shouldn’t change, can’t change, won’t change. It’s the fates, the stars, the genetics, the “way I am.” The mere suggestion that we could be someone different is so destructive to the ego that people can feel themselves get hot when they hear the idea. Defenses rise. And before they let themselves ponder the implications, they’ve already written a formal treatise to substantiate their egos.
No. The way we are is a human animal. And we can take the road not taken. There is no obligation to continue reinforcing for our egos that we must always do what we’ve always done, always be who we’ve always been, always get what we’ve always had. Plenty of people start other languages, instruments, skills, careers, late in life. There are people with autism who become great public speakers. There are outgoing people who get tired of social interaction and introverts who get worn out from solitude. Dali was no more an “artist” than you can be. Newton was no more a “thinker” than you can be. Healthy people become unhealthy all the time. Unhealthy people become healthy people all the time.
I don’t disagree that people are generally the same and predictable. I just don’t believe that they have to be, because of hard evidence. That flimsy rule of “never-change” you’re trying to hold up needs only one single counter example to forever dismantle it. You know there are multiple counter examples. You know there are people who do change. You know in your heart of hearts that you have changed. I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. I’m just saying it again in hopes you will embrace it.
It’s simple, really: take a road you’ve not taken.