When I was a young child, I wanted to be just like my Mom. I was mesmerized by her beauty- her salon styled hair, red lipstick and perfectly manicured nails- and transfixed by her talents- the various inflections in her voice she used while reading aloud, her artistic ability that helped make school projects come alive and the way she made each one of us feel special and important. To me, my Mom was the ideal woman and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.
I was in my late teens when I realized that my life was not exactly like my mother’s. I went to college and had options that she did not have. I continued to turn to her for advice and guidance, and at the same time, I realized that I was not just like her. Our paths might be similar and yet, my life was my own journey.
It is enticing to try to imitate the life of someone you greatly admire -whether it is a parent, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, Bill Gates or someone closer to you who seems to be living the life you would like to have. Trying to replicate their life’s path can be tempting and yet, we are all meant to lead our own life.
Many years ago, my husband took part in an outdoor adventure program. It was a grueling 3 weeks of canoeing and portaging thru mosquito-ridden waterways in Minnesota. At one point the leaders gathered the group of 16 young adults at a designated spot on the river. The instructors informed them they were to start at their current spot, point A, and walk upstream to a designated point B. The leaders took off and one by one each participant made their way upstream. It was slow going- the water was rushing down and the rocks were slippery, but each person made their way upstream without incident or mishap. They regrouped on land and followed the riverbank down to where they started. The instructors told them they were to do the exercise again with one twist: the participants had to follow in the instructor’s footsteps, each person taking the same route as the person in front of them. One by one they took off upstream. They quickly realized that their strides were different lengths causing shorter legs to stretch and slip. Their paces were different, which caused some to balance precariously on the wet rocks while waiting for the person ahead of them. People fell in the cold river left and right. There was cursing and shouting as they all tried to make their way upstream.
The message from this simple exercise is this: we are not meant to take the exact journey as another person. In fact, trying to take the exact same route as another is a recipe for failure. We are unique individuals and are each called to forge our own way and live our own life.