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August 25, 2013

How a Chance Encounter with a Jogger Changed My Path Forever

August 25, 2013

Each morning I walk three laps around the pond near our house. It is a perfect place to walk while listening to Podcasts. The path is gravel and dirt—in places carpeted by a layer of pine needles—and closely follows the contour of the water, rising and falling natural elevation. On three sides of the pond, the hills are packed with red pines like a silent audience at an amphitheatre. It is quiet and rarely do I see another person. It is like a walk in the deep woods.

When I first started my walks around the pond, I instinctively traveled clockwise. I'd head up the steep slope of the path into the woods, toward and then past the museum and town pool. Then, I'd make my way down an even steeper slope that takes me back to the the main path and follow around the water, back to my start position. I do one or two more laps depending on the time I had.

To change things up one morning, I decided to go counter-clockwise. It felt strange. It seems silly that it would feel any different. It's just walking a path, but I found myself feeling something wasn't right. A couple more laps in this direction and it felt normal—or rather, it didn't feel strange any longer.

One day not to long after my directional change-up, I was walking counter-clockwise around the pond. A jogger approached from behind. As is the custom, anyone passing will say, "Good morning." The jogger slowed to a walk along side me and said, "I'm visiting the area. I just happened on this path and it's a nice place to run. Do you know if there are any other areas like this?" I responded, "Sadly, I've lived here for 9 years and I have no idea." I then pointed to the path and gestured to the left and up and added, "I like to go up the steep hill to work out my legs." By the time I finished speaking, he was back into his jog, gestured to a path at the right, that was not part of the main path. I told him it would just take him back up to the street. He turned and resumed his full-speed jog and he was almost instantly out of my sight.

As I walked my second lap around the pond, I couldn't get my mind off the out-of-town jogger's gesture toward the other path—the one that that led away from the main path. I thought to myself, "I had never actually taken that path. I've only ever stayed on the main path." To me, the idea of leaving the main path felt far more foreign an idea than switching my route from clockwise to counter-clockwise.

On my third and final lap, I approached the my path-not-taken. In that moment I decided I was going to change that. With resolve, I veered onto the new-to-me path. Each footstep changed me. I could feel my mind adjusting. It wasn't scary. It wasn't going to hurt me. It was something new. It sure felt odd to be off my path, and I did confirm that it brought me out to the street exactly as I assumed.

The visiting jogger showed me something important. I—we are not bound by patterns of behavior and habits. We can experience new things. If we purposefully step out of our patterns, we'll dramatically increase the odds, frequency and quantity of new experiences.

Do you step out of your patterns? Do you make an effort to change things up? Or, do you always make the right on your way home and never the left? I want to be your out-of-town jogger and ask, "What's down that path?"

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