This is a tale for readers like me who have tried to seize every good opportunity and worn themselves out in the process.
The week before I started college, my mom rented a beach house in Gulf Shores, Alabama. With unimaginable greatness only a few days away, I slipped out for a moon-lit stroll to pray about the exciting unknown.
I walked for a while before pausing to consider all the other footprints lining the beach. Thousands of steps surrounded me. Overwhelmed by the multitude of steps, I lost sight of my own. The foreboding metaphor for the coming season of opportunities knocked me to my knees. Lord, in the midst of so many steps, which path was I to take? And then in one of those rare moments of clarity, I knew I was to focus on only one path – my own. I would walk among thousands of other steps, but only one path was mine to decide.
I entered college at a peak of extroversion and people-pleasing. The interests of others became my interests and multiplied like rabbits. Forgetting the beach night guidance, I dived into a welcoming, Christian university eager to help me plug in. I grasped every chance.
Every stranger was soon a friend. Every club deemed worthwhile. Every class, meeting, and retreat marked un-missable. This boundary-less zeal combined with bottomless good opportunities became my beach of a thousand steps. I was breathlessly jumping from footprint to footprint.
I wish I could say that a few weeks into my freshman year I remembered the beachfront epiphany and reigned myself in. But, alas, it took longer. By second semester, I was on my third minor and had almost entirely given up sleeping. Between choir practice, Bible study, part-time jobs, late-night chats and, oh yes, classes, I was perpetually over-booked.
By spring of sophomore year, my body came to a screeching halt. Juggling all the paths was no longer working. My world stopped. My heart sagged. I met my limits. I had lost so much steam that I couldn’t walk a single step, let alone a thousand.
Finally, finally, the metaphor sunk in. I had to walk only one path. Unfortunately, I realized this by default – I was able to walk only one path.
As I crashed headlong into the wall of burnout, I landed on grace. I slipped off campus to sleep and journal for days. I started asking what my one path should look like instead of jumping into the steps of others. Gradually, I started saying no to new opportunities and quit some that were optional. I pruned my schedule to tend to my greatest interests, some by requirement and some by desire. It was a messy start to an essential process, but I was finally taking the next steps of my path, just that one.
To be sure, I’ve done some more footprint hopping since then, but I try to take the single-path approach. Instead of limiting my life, it turns out my path has taken me around the world with eye-opening experiences. The years after college have offered astounding sights and chances that I’ve taken one by one.
So, dear reader, if this story finds you desperately hopping from footprint to footprint on a beach of a thousand steps in every direction, I invite you to rest and to walk your own path, just that one.
Catherine Pearson has her M.A. in Journalism from the University of Missouri Columbia and her B.A. in Religion from Belmont University, where she learned to walk only one path. She loves traveling the world and enjoys a good metaphor along the way.