The path less travelled

University campuses are well planned. There are buildings with mini courtyards, grassed areas to sit for a bite of lunch or read a book between classes, and tree lined foot paths taking you to your next class.

Intuitive paths

There are also very unplanned sections. I call these the intuitive paths. What I notice everywhere I go is how it is human nature to take the shortest path. We intuitively look for the short cut, we find a way to get from point A to point B with the least amount of exertion and the greatest saving of time.

Take for example one of the university campuses I attended, UC Berkeley, California in the San Francisco Bay Area. Because the campus was on a hill with quite a grade walking back up the hill would sometimes be a drag. After a morning of classes in the Psychology building at the farthest corner of the campus (wonder why that is?) I would walk the 20 minutes up the hill through campus back to my house.

There was one area in particular where the footpath made a perfect 90 degree angle around a lovely park like area. There were oak trees at strategic locations to create shade and resting places. When I would pass the building on the edge of this area I would face a choice…do I take the concrete, well laid out foot path or ‘cut across’ the lawn, following the well worn footmarks of my earlier fellow travellers.

Social anthropologists in action

As I was a psychology student studying science as well (I thought I wanted to be a doctor for a few years) I was into the observation of social behaviour as well as the merits of experimentation. So I would try different experiences.

Choice 1: Take the known well planned safest path.

I used this one in particular during rain. Very practical and kept the feet and pants dry.

Choice 2: Take the less established but definitely well travelled path diagonal across the lawn.

This was clearly the absolute shortest distance. I felt a little guilty but when others were on the path it was ok. Right?

Choice 3: Sit and watch others.

Study and see what ratio of people took the well planned and which ones took the natural one.

Choice 4: Take the road next to the path.

Clearly a rebellious choice just to prove I am not a follower – just looking for trouble from any campus vehicle drivers legally using the road.

Choice 5: Completely avoid this route so I have no choice conflict at all.

Well this just frustrated me because I knew instinctively that I was taking the long way to avoid the decision.

My position

After a while, and mind you I walked this path for a good 5 ½ years (I never wanted to leave university life), I had enough qualitative and some quantitative research to make a call on the situation.

It goes like this.

Its about the choice

When faced with a choice in life about doing what is established, traditional and expected we do so when it protects us. When all conditions are good, ie not fearful or in need of protection, not risk averse, we explore new directions. The other level is the first path is where our ego and mind take us the second where our heart and intuition take us.

Let me explain further….as I appreciate there are some of you who clearly can not even see that there is anything other than choice 1 and others who only see choice 2.


Which path you take depends on many factors. These include your upbringing, your socialisation, your set of rules about how you live in a planned society. When you are bound by these conventions then you follow exactly that – conventions.

The consequences of all of the above choices have positive and negative outcomes. Out of respect to your own insight I will let you consider these.

What I am interested is the parallel of taking each choice and how this relates to the way you live your life.

Let's go there...


PurposeJenn Shallvey