Embracing the Desire Path

Earlier this morning, on the way to the airport, my boyfriend and I were playing this vocabulary game. He would say some crazypants word and I was supposed to guess what it meant. We went through some really crazy stuff like “muntin” and “ferrule”..neither of which I got on the first try.

Then he said “The Desire Path.” Just like you I thought to myself “well this game has taken a turn for the x-rated hasn’t it…” But alas, it was not that at all. He showed me this picture:

When he showed it to me, I still didn’t get it. I had to ask him what it meant. He gave me this quick definition, which is something like this… “its what happens when people choose to create a shorter route than the actual one.”

The text book definition is this: “A desire path (also known as a desire line, social trail, goat track or bootleg trail) is a path developed by erosion caused by footfall or by bicycle. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination.”

Goat track. Ha. Moving on.

So I thought about this for a hot minute, then our conversation switched to what airline I was flying out on. However, once I got on the plane I kept thinking about it. The desire path. The desire line. The shortcut we find when we know just where we are going.

This all reminded me of a conversation I had with Peter not too long ago when we were running along the Seattle waterfront. It was one of our first runs as a couple. His steps are about two times the size of mine in mileage covered so lets just say — it wasn’t going awesomely. I was trying to look cute while trying to keep up and he was trying to slow down which made him look like he was stumbling. We were trying to hold conversation but growing increasingly frustrated with each other.

The moment that I remember most was when he jumped off the trail and through this little mini park which has a pretty arch called “Rose’s Garden.” I all but stopped. WHY WAS HE JUMPING OFF THE TRAIL? I literally felt like Field of Dreams when I took my first step onto the grass. It was so crazy — WHO KNEW WHERE I WOULD END UP.

He thought this was hilarious.

“You’ve never gone off the path before?,” he asked.

“Well actually I guess not, no I haven’t,” I answered just as surprised.

This, much like hearing the definition of desire path, struck me. I’m just not one to go off the path. This is strange given I was brought up reading books like “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and listening to poems about taking the road less traveled. I’m the one that took off from home at 21, seeking a coast I had never even seen. I am the one that picked a career my family doesn’t even think is real. I’m the one that used to stay up as a kid dreaming of ways I could build a ladder to reach the stars.

Yet here I am, a grown ass adult… freaking out about the concept of leaving the already established trail. What a strange dichotomy.

Needless to say, the entire flight I kept thinking about this concept of the desire path. I kept trying to find examples where I have “built” one in my life. I could’t really find one. Instead I found a laundry list of examples where I have stayed on the expected path far too long:

I’ve stayed in friendships I knew weren’t healthy.

I’ve stayed in relationships I knew weren’t healthy.

I fought for goals I didn’t really want.

I stood up for people I don’t think really deserved it.

I’ve stood by during injustices.

I’ve masked what I wanted for what I should have wanted.

And so on and so forth.

Just when I thought there was no hope I remembered this one time. I thought back to a time that something was expected of me, I should have done it, and I chose a shorter path to where I really wanted to be.

When I was a senior in high school my mom was dying of cancer. We found out over Christmas that she had a few months to live. I won’t go into it all too much here, instead I’ll save it for another time. However, as the school year was closing my mom had gotten increasingly sick. She was hardly herself anymore. She had stopped working. She didn’t really eat. She didn’t really sleep. She didn’t really talk. She was in a lot of pain.

My sister and I were seniors in a small town, at a highschool where everyone knew us. For months the town and highschool tried to help my sister and I behave normally. It was really important to my mom that we got to enjoy our last year in school with our friends. She insisted we go to school, and practices, and prom. All the meanwhile she was getting sicker, and time was running slim.

So the last week of school finals rolled around. I did well in school, mostly A’s with some B’s. I had to take this Psychology Exam. I remember being in my room two days before the exam and just staring at the books. I kept running out to see my mom in the living room where she now lived with our Hospice care late at night. The next day I went to my teacher and for one of the only times ever I chose the desire path. I said “I’m not taking this.” And as any great teacher would have done he looked into my eyes, knowing what I was going through, and said “ok, no problem, take care.” I walked out of the room and drove home. I sat by my mom for a few hours with no one else around.

She passed away a week later, it was the day before I graduated.

I’m the type of person that was brought up to believe you work harder than others. You put in your time, you do what you’re told, you walk between the outlined trail.

But just like all good theories there is a time to say fuck it. There is a time to look at the winding trail in front of you and step off. Forge your own trail. With this comes the knowledge that people might raise a brow, they might think you’re odd. But who cares.

With any desire path, one must assume there is a desire at the end of it. That alone warrants the risk of a few raised eyebrows, a few broken rules.

I’m excited to have learned the name for this concept that goes against my nature. It gives me something to explore. Who knows…maybe just maybe, the next time you see me I’ll be running along the Seattle Waterfront… on the grass, barefoot…zig zagging all over the damn place.

Here’s to hoping…

10 Comments
  • http://www.heatherphysioc.com Heather Physioc

    Thank you for sharing your story. I needed to read this, but I didn’t know it until I read it.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    never knew there was an actual name for it. Always ended up on it at various turning points in life. Just didn’t know it had a name. What a truly powerful, eloquently written and heart-moving post Joanna…

    Thank you.

    And thank Peter!

  • http://www.zaddle.co.uk Liam @ Zaddle

    Hi Joanna

    Great blog post – 4 years ago I thought “fuck it” after being in financial services for 18 years.

    I remember driving on the motorway knowing I had had enough – I called a friend who was in internet marketing (and was extremely successful at it) and simply said to him that I thought I could do what he could do (albeit I needed to build up my knowledge which was almost zero) – he just said “go for it”.

    I did and 4 years later I have a pretty good income, some awesome clients, some great results and although I have to work my ass off 6 days a week at the moment, I have gained good local recognition as an “expert” in my areas of work (PPC, SEO & Social Media). I still feel I have loads to learn but simply love what I do.

    I’m sure I will have other “fuck it” moments throughout the rest of my life :)

  • http://Www.yoavshapira.com Yoav Shapira

    Thank you for sharing this great story and its lessons.

  • http://www.z6mag.com Joel (@webaddict)

    Thank you so much for sharing this Joanna. I use to live my life by the desire trail and then have moved back on “the” trail. This was a great post & very inspiring. Thank you! Now I can tell everyone I’m striving for the desire trail. :)

  • http://twitter.com/deand Dean

    Great post Joanna. Saying “fuck it” or off-trail can be so liberating…

  • http://www.blog.digitalkeydesign.com DKD

    Wow great post! This is exactly what Ive been needing read. I’m at a point in my life I’m sick of following the trail, I can see the desire path but I just haven’t taken the leap of faith. The Step off the trail onto the desired path. It will be soon though…..

  • http://www.letter10creative.com Jamie

    Very well written Joanna! A good reminder we need to check in on our “desire path” every once in a while. Seems the past year I’ve lost sight of it. Thanks for the reminder to keep going on my own track. Cheers, j

  • Beach254

    Thanks for sharing Joanna.  Of course you know what I am doing right now.  I remember when you told the teacher you couldn’t take the test. I am so glad you had the teacher who could see beyond the outlined trail and understood.  Who knew how much my little niece could teach me!  I have been on the desire path but as you get older you tend to slack about leaving it.  This is what I needed to open my eyes again.  Thanks.  Love you!

  • http://twitter.com/KarlieMacG Karlie MacGregor

    I stumbled across your blog by accident today, via the magic of social media when someone shares a link, which leads you elsewhere, in this case, today, it brought me to your blog and this post. The quote you have tattooed was given to me recently on a card so it prompted me to scroll through your blog further. I’m a start-up, and having the guts to jump out there and do what you truly know will work when everyone around you doubts or thinks small is tough, but you have no other choice. Lost my dad last year in a very similar way, very sobering time. 
    Life is too short to stop and wonder, following your intuition is key to being on the right path, great post, thanks :)