Life is a path. And from the moment we’re born until the day we die, we’re on it. We don’t always see the path. Hell, most of us don’t even realize we’re moving along one. But we are. And it’s not the same path for any of us. Though they are all relative. They all move you through life. Until they end. And you expire.

As children, our paths are determined for us. We have no control over where we’re born, or to whom. Then, with adolescence comes some responsibility and we start to make decisions that directly affect our paths. Most of these decisions come in the form of choosing right from wrong. Good from bad. Basic stuff. The more good decisions we make, the better the outcome. The clearer the path. But then something happens as we leap from the nest and swoop down into the world on our own. We move faster. And the decisions come quicker. And no one is perfect, so we make some mistakes. Hopefully we learn from these and don’t repeat them – because every decision, for good or bad, puts us in a position to make subsequent decisions from a similar perspective. That’s why after making a couple of bad decisions we usually find ourselves in an uncomfortable place. Lying is a good example of this. The more lies you tell, the further you are from the truth. The further you are from the truth, the further you are from your path. Long ago I worked for a guy who said, “Always tell the truth, there’s less to remember.” It’s sage advice that has stayed with me ever since. Because it’s true. A lie is a bad decision. Karma is a real thing.

So as we move through life, we are on this path. A path that is only revealed to us via the present, and is illuminated by the decisions we’ve made in the past. I like to think of it as taking a long, continuous walk with doors at every turn. One foot in front of the other. Every step an opportunity to move in the right decision. As I walk, I acknowledge different doors that swing open and closed along the path. Every door a decision. Every decision the opportunity to move in a different direction. The only way I know that I’m on the right path is gut instinct. An instinct that is continually refined as the result of previous decisions I’ve made. That’s called experience – and I know if you’re reading this and you’re young, you don’t want to hear about experience. But experience is a real thing. For example, if I’m walking along my path and I peek inside a door to see a pile of gold, I’m less likely to think of that as a good direction now as compared to when I was, say, 25. That’s because I’ve learned that the lure of money (especially easy money) isn’t usually the right direction for my life. Money has a way of sidetracking me. Shifting my core priorities. I could only have learned this from making mistakes and paying attention to the mistakes of others. In other words, experience. Anyway, as I walk along the path of life and watch these doors swing open and closed, I think of the lady with the short skirt and red garter who I once saw on Bourbon Street when I was 12. As our family walked past her, she smiled, winked at me, and then swung open the door to her establishment. Inside was a topless woman with tassels on her nipples dancing on a small stage in a dark room above men who had their backs to me as they stared up at her. Before I was able to see more, my mother snatched me by the arm and sped me away while the lady with the red garter laughed and yelled, “Come on back and see us in a couple years, Sweetie.”

I never went back. Not there, anyway. Though I did make my way through plenty of those doors in my lifetime. And mostly these were bad decisions based on bad decisions which led to more bad decisions. Doors upon doors upon doors. Until I was completely lost. Miraculously, I was able to find my way back on my true path. And so today I continue to evaluate the doors along the path of life. Thankfully, I’ve learned to filter what’s good from bad quicker as I’ve moved along, and so I am more confident in my decisions than ever before. No, they’re not always right decisions. Nobody’s perfect. However, my decisions today are always made with the best intentions and enough experience to know that they’re only possible because of decisions I’ve made leading up today. I stopped trying to control the future long ago and now rely on something like faith to carry me along my path. Faith that means at the end of every day, I believe that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. As long as I’m making the best decisions possible.

This is not to say that bad things don’t happen. They do. Look, there have been as many bad times in my life as there has been in yours. Bad times are going to happen whether we like them or not – regardless of our decision making. And our burdens are all relative. I once heard someone say that God only gives you what you can handle. That’s a very comforting thought for me. That tough times are just part of the path. How we react to these things is what’s important. During some of the most dire times in my recent history, there were definitely days when all I could do was focus on was continuing to move forward in a positive direction. That’s it. Nothing more. Trying to make as many consecutive good decisions as possible – regardless of their size or scope – so that I could lay my head down at night and know that I did my best. But this requires faith that everything eventually works out. Maybe not in the moment. Maybe not today. But eventually.

And you know what? So far they have.


Jim Mitchem

The Crest of a New Wave
Wonder, Childhood, and the Letting Go.

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.