There are times to step back, especially when life is swirling around us, and times to step out, in creativity, courage, and collaboration. The two movements are integrally related. Stepping back gives us the perspective we need to see new possibilities. Stepping out gives us the experience we need to explore new possibilities. If your life lacks a rhythm of stepping back and stepping out, then perhaps this Provision is for you.
Perhaps you saw this title coming. Last week I encouraged you to step back from the crises and turmoil of modern life through shifting perspective, seeking connection, and studying meditation. Given all the recent uproar and talk of an impending financial melt down, I hope you took the time to try some of those practices. That’s especially true because of what stepping back can generate, namely, the ability to see alternatives, to question assumptions, to challenge attributions, and to take actions.
Simply put: we step back in order to step out with new insights, energies, and directions. That is how stepping back and stepping out are related. When we take the time to gather our wits, becoming clear about the stories we are hearing and telling about the worlds in which we live, we can move beyond the vicissitudes of life to the calm center from which transformational actions can be taken.
That is at least one interpretation of Robert Frost’s famous poem, first published in 1916, “The Road Not Taken”:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I •
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
You can listen to Frost reading the poem himself by going tohttp://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15717.
Now while there is speculation as to whether this poem was written as an ode to individual expression or as a satire on the importance we give to our choices (imagine the sigh and the final word being said with a crooked smile), no one disputes that life is filled with choices made and roads not taken. Whatever their consequence, those choices and roads both reflect and impact our way in the world. In the grand scheme of things they may or may not make all that much difference, but they do make a difference to the choosers and the travelers. They do make a difference to us.
Stepping back enables us to choose and travel well, whether we take one road or the other. I like the image of Frost standing for a long time, looking down each road, before deciding his path. I also like the notion of using “the road less traveled by” as a criterion for making one’s choice. Stepping back is more than just catching our breath. It’s getting clear about what would meet our needs, in this moment, and then stepping out accordingly.
There are literally countless strategies to meet our needs, but people often get attached to one strategy or another without fleshing out their feelings or fully considering their options. They don’t take the time to look far down the roads of two or more ways, exploring their feelings about each, before proceeding. When that happens, people bear down rather than step out. They insist on their way as the way as if heaven and earth were riding on their one approach.
That’s what I like about the ironic, rather than the literal, translation of Frost’s poem. Do our choices really make all that much difference? Viewed with the hindsight of old age, our choices may not seem to make all that much difference after all. One way or the other may have been “just as fair,” as with the destinations they lead to, so let’s not get over anxious about choosing the right way.
Instead, let’s step out into what Ben and Roz Zander call the zone of possibility. Try every road that would seem to be more fair. Then look out for the difference it can make.
Coaching Inquiries: What assists you to step out into the zone of possibility? When have you decided to take the road less traveled? What stories do you tell about the possibilities of life? What stories do you hear? How can you write new stories of courage, creativity, and collaboration?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
Thanks for your last provision on stepping back. I’m a go-go person and I really appreciated the reminder to take regular breaks. Thanks!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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