Do we sit down and work out where we want to be, what steps are necessary to get there, and then launch our n-stage plan into action? Or do we simply play it by ear, feel our way towards something better?
There may be some people who have this kind of focus, but experience suggests that the vast majority of people are merely stumbling around in the dark, finding out what works and what doesn't, repeating the things that seem to work and avoiding the things that don't.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Grand Plan, while it can be a great dream to hang on to, can also be its own stumbling-block; it's too big, too all-encompassing, it incorporates too many major life changes which we can't make all at once. In trying to do everything at once we end up doing nothing at all, falling on the first step.
The first step is to take a step. Meaningless? Obvious? Think about walking from one side of the room to the other. How do you do it? You take one step forward. You don't step from where you are straight to the other side of the room; you just put one foot in front of the other. Maybe they're imperceptibly small steps. Maybe you're just shuffling an inch at a time. But you're moving.
Maybe you don't even know where you want to be. Most people don't. If all you know is that you don't want to be on this side of the room, take a step away from where you are. It's the first step that matters. And every step is the first step.
"So leave the ways that are making you be what you really don't want to be
Leave the ways that are making you love what you really don't want to love"
There are as many ways as there are people. Maybe more. Some of us follow the signposts; some of us wander into the woods without needing a path; some of us take the path of least resistance, the road worn smooth by a million feet. (Some of us sit and stare into the river at Parson's Pleasure.) The paths have a power of their own, the force of memory and myth; they can guide us, but if we let them, they will shape us and own us.
* * *
I am treading and retreading a path that is beginning to own me. I am wandering around the same few (half-deserted) streets like a drunken man, my sense of purpose and urgency made farcical by my lack of direction.
I have been wandering this way for some time. (Oxford, Cambridge, London ... Unreal.) I cling to the illusion of progress, because the times and the places are passing me by as I walk in the same tired ways. I need to step aside, but there's a crowd all around me, all flowing in the same direction. (I had not thought death had undone so many.) I have gathered this crowd around me, I asked them to travel with me, but now the path has gained its own momentum.
There's always a jolt when you step off a moving walkway, a moment while your feet catch up and remember how to walk entirely on their own.
It's the first step that matters. And every step is the first step.