Lead in your own way

Before me lie the tracks of another beach dweller. I see a depression in the wet sand marking where he or she went before me.  Then I see another and another. The beach is covered with footprints.  

You can tell little about the person that left their mark, yet you know a visitor was there.  The moment is fleeting as the tide laps at those who took the risk next to the waters edge.  Runners, walkers, adults, kids even dogs tread here before me.

For a moment I fantasise. I wonder what it would be like to walk someone else’s path. Maybe if I consciously place my bare foot in the next imprint I will know.   I close my eyes for a moment. I step forward and imagine I am this man or woman. What is my life like? What was I doing on the beach so early in the day? Is this my routine? Do I work, not work, wish I could work? Am I a local, tourist or regular visitor?  So many questions, so much I will not know from this person’s path of prints.  

So I play a different game. I discover the person’s stride, their gait, their pace. I can tell this person had long legs as I stretch my legs to reach the next print.  My bare foot leaves a mark within the shadow of a running shoe. I fit in. I can go along. I can follow. I still don’t know this person.

But what fun is this? I am now bored. It is fine for a moment to play. It is certainly ok for me to enjoy imagining who these other people are that went before me. But I feel like I have to stay in the lines, land where the other did.  I have no personal connection just a feeling of confinement. When these people were walking or running did they care that I was to follow? No. Did they walk or run with the idea that someone else would go exactly where they did? No.  Did they venture forth restricted by where others went before them? No.

So I won’t either. Instead I will go back to walking my own path.  I might cross paths with another, catch up to or even pass the others that preceded me. It does not matter. I am walking what feels right for me. There is freedom in this self-direction.  There is also respect for the other person’s path. For we are all individuals sharing the same place. We just have different ways.

As I do my own thing I think to myself how often in real life we are tempted to follow in other’s footsteps.  In so doing it is then easier for us to find a way that conforms or follows. We do not risk going our own way unless we consciously choose to do so.  Even more so we need an environment that allows us to.

The beach has no boundaries other than the dunes and the ocean. There is always a stretch of land from one point to another. When we walk this area we can go anywhere. Many will choose the location most suited for them. We don’t choose the location because others chose it.

But when we are not at the beach the territory is more challenging and limiting.  We have obstacles, distractions, expectations.  It is in our workplace, home and community that we are tested. How often do we go along because it’s easier, follow the status quo because it saves time or simply stay within the lines because someone told us to?  Did the leaders we admire and hold in high esteem do this? No. Did the role models we award medals and prizes to follow in other’s footsteps? No. Did the inventors and innovators of this world do what they were told? No.

This reflection is a comment on being your own person, not rebelling for the sake of rebelling. For in the end we all still need to get along with each other.  It is this fact that stands out to me the most as I look back at the beach from the top of the dunes. What I see now is not a footprint of one person that I don’t want to follow. What I see is a beautiful pattern of many paths taken all balancing out with each other.  There is a subtle symbiotic existence of many within a space so open and free.

So now I imagine all those paths filled with people still walking. Each person is on their path. Yet each person can engage with and exchange with another. It is simply a matter of timing and proximity.  Nothing gets in the way of each being their own person.    It is in the freedom of being themselves and going where they wish that they meet others doing the same. Now wouldn’t that be an interesting and exciting place to be?

So go create your own footprints and see where it leads you.

Jenn Shallvey