Stay on the Path

There it is.

It happened again.

It always seems to at times like these...

Everything is going great - you hit a new high (more praise, more readers, more anything) and you feel amazing…

Momentum is building in the right direction (up and to the right) and it feels like nothing can break you…

You're on top of the world for a moment…

And then you see it:

A picture of a group of people you would call friends (at least in the Facebook sense) at a party together.

You weren't invited.

Or another of your peers shares a success – and it’s much bigger than the little win you were all excited about earlier.

Your ‘win’ doesn’t feel so important anymore…

Or a new list, ranking, top whatever comes out and you see people you recognize highlighted.

You're nowhere to be found.

Sometimes it feels like you'll never be…

2 Choices, 2 Paths

Have you been here before?

That lonely place where you see yourself in relation to others, which leads to intense criticism - of yourself AND them?

I know I have.

More than I’d like to admit.

And it doesn’t matter that it is so clearly irrational (comparing our first season to another’s 5th, comparing our first year in business to another’s 10th, comparing sales, shares, or likes to the mainstream leaders, etc.) – it still happens.

And it dawned on me:

There are only 2 things that can happen at a moment like this - only two choices and two unique paths you can take:

Choice #1: Go With It

The first choice is easy: you go with it.

This is the path where you embrace the fact that you're not as good as he is; not as famous as her; not as (seemingly) happy as all of them...

This is the comfortable path: the paved road with a slight decline, good shade and a cool breeze.

This is the path of least resistance. 

It is frictionless.  There’s no drag.

If you let it, your mind will go here automatically with little effort on your part.  It’s self-perpetuating:

Comparing yourself to others leads to self-loathing, which leads to anger, which leads to critiquing others, which leads to more comparison, which leads to more self-loathing…

You get the point.

When we choose this path, the downward spiral is inevitable.

The end: inexorable.

Choice #2: Go Against It

The second choice isn’t so natural or easy.

The second choice is to recognize what’s happening – The Enemy has started another campaign to undermine your recent success – and to move in defiance.

This path leads you up the windward side of a mountain, against jagged and loose rock, with no steps or trail to follow.

This is an uncertain, uncomfortable place to exist...

This path is difficult because it requires you to recognize the state of things – the status quo, the tribe, the safe average – and willfully say “No, I’ll have no part.”

And it doesn’t stop with saying it, you must actually do it.

This takes courage (and grit…and hustle).

What’s Your Mission

This idea of choosing a path reminds me of the movie The Book of Eli.

The Book of Eli takes place (like all good action movies) in a post-apocalyptic future.

The world’s been devastated by who-knows-what, and all that’s left is a desolate, urban wasteland filled with bandits, marauders, and hooligans, each trying to get their piece (even if it means killing you for it).

And then there’s Eli.

Unlike the rest of the world, merely living to survive, he’s on a mission – to deliver a book.

He doesn’t know how he’s going to do it – the path is long, uncertain, and unclear – but he knows he must.

He understands his why and moves through this wasteland purposefully.

  • He doesn’t choose the path based on convenience, or comfort, or ease.
  • The actions of others do not affect his path.
  • His feelings do not dictate direction.

Because he understands his mission – his why - he always knows which path to choose: the one that brings him closer to accomplishing is mission, no matter how painful, uncertain, or unnatural.

There’s a scene, in the beginning of the movie, when Eli is confronted with a choice.

He sees two people get attacked by a roving gang of bikers.

His compulsion is to help; to influence the outcome of this rather dire situation.

Instead – against his natural impulse – he sits down and (in quite a bit of pain) he repeats to himself:

“Stay on the path.  It’s not your concern.  Stay on the path.  It’s not your concern.  Stay on the path.  It’s not your concern…”

Stay on the Path

How hard must it have been for Eli, in that position, to not intervene?

He didn’t do it out of cowardice (the rest of the movie confirms that).

He did it because his mission took precedence.

Each of us, like Eli, is on a mission.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, writer, artist, inventor, warrior or leader (and every person in the world is at least one of those things), you have a mission.

The mission differs person to person.

The path manifests in different ways for different people....

My path will not be your path, nor your path your neighbors...

2 things are important to realize here:

#1. It’s Okay.

It’s okay that our missions differ.

That yours is different than mine.  And that each path will unfold how it must, in its own time and way, uniquely to you.

#2. Your Mission is Paramount.

Not his.  Not hers. Not theirs...


Superficially, this sounds selfish.

But dig beneath the surface and you realize nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s Not Your Concern

The life of an artist, entrepreneur, or writer isn’t a post-apocalyptic, life-and-death game of survival (although sometimes it feels this way…).

But regardless the setting of your personal story, one thing is very clear:

Once you wholeheartedly commit to your mission, there will arise a million distractions, hurdles, and obstacles along your path.

They will manifest in an infinite number of ways, not least insidiously as the self-defeating, self-perpetuating spiral of comparison.

Which is why, at moments like these – and any other moment in life that seeks to dislodge you from your purpose and throw you off course – it’s important to remember the truth:

The party you weren’t invited to?

Stay on the path.  It’s not your concern.

The big win the other guy had?

Stay on the path.  It’s not your concern.

The top-50-whatever list you weren’t featured in?

Stay on the path.  It’s not your concern.

All of these things will come in time – if they must.  If that’s where your mission and your path takes you.

But if not, so be it.

It’s not your concern because it’s not your path.

Embrace your mission, stay the path, and keep creating.

That’s what I’ll be doing.

How about you?

Started, finished, and shipped in Big Bay, Cape Town, South Africa.  Fueled by Cape Brewing Amber Weiss and The Decemberists The King is Dead album.

Total writing time: 5 hours and 13 minutes (true story)

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11 comments on “Stay on the Path”

  1. Maybe I should watch the Book of Eli...

    Seriously though great post! A message that anyone in any field can relate to.

    With the best of the best always available at the click of a button, it's easy to down play your own victories because they may not be as good as someone else's. It's much harder to allow your own victories to fuel you to be better. If you continue to fuel up on your own victories you'll be that one everyone's striving to be like! 🙂

    Thanks for the reminder we all need!

  2. This is so true. It's so easy to fall into the mindset of comparison with someone else and not feel like we measure up. I myself do this quite a bit and it's a constant battle to remind myself that why I'm telling myself isn't true. Trying to understand this internal dialogue is difficult because it means coming to terms with some things I don't like to admit to myself- my flaws and the basis for the comparing. Thank you for sharing this. I just gotta keep staying on the path and remind myself that I am right where I'm supposed to be

    1. Mariel - you hit the nail on the head: "right where you are supposed to be."

      At the end of the day, we're all right there...we just have to realize it, find our way point, and keep moving 🙂

  3. Thank you very much" it reminds me of my teacher in school'Doing Higher grade' He will always say Do not loose focus Stay on Path you re moving on; do not let anything or anyone disrupt your focus: If you do not allow that' you will make it in life;I really need to hear this in differents ways not in writing a manuscript only.

    1. Lisa - thanks so much for the kind words. You're exactly right - it's a message that ought to be heard and repeated again and again 🙂

  4. I love this, Tom: Embrace your mission, stay the path, and keep creating. So simple, and yet so difficult at times... Thanks for your inspiration; I needed this! 😉

  5. I go through a similar cycle. Life is good and then ... splat!
    A while back, I read something from an influencer who had been going through a difficult time and had no idea how he was going to overcome a particular challenge. He gave himself one day to sulk and feel sorry for himself but made himself fight back the very next day.
    That seems to work for me. I left myself feel low once I've noticed that the cycle has started. The next day, I shift into overdrive and kick some tail because no one else can do it for me.