The Path

Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.

(Wanderer, there is no path; the path is made by walking.) 

Antonio Machado wrote this poem a century ago in Spain, and Joan Manuel Serrat turned the words into a hit song in the 70’s.  Maybe it was his lilting, lisping Castillian, or the fact that Serrat was young, romantic and fighting for causes I so wanted to align with…but those words have stayed with me through the years.

And when I find my avoiding a project by swirling and drifting through meaningless tasks like a stylus gliding over album tracks; or when I balk at the fear of “judgy”comments behind my back, or –far worse – the half-smile and averted eyes of the sham compliment to my face, Serrat’s voice is the siren’s song that beckons.  His words remind me  that hey, that email isn’t going to write itself… until I start clicking some keyboard keys.  And that stupid misunderstanding isn’t going to clear itself up… until I start talking.  Sometimes it takes a lifetime’s worth of faith to type that first “Dear…” or voice that first “So…”  But when I do take that inaugural step, the path begins to appear.  The fear-fog lifts, the next word forms, the connections magically materialize.  Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly… Se hace camino al andar..  

In the book Mindset, Carolyn Dweck speaks of the “fixed” vs “growth” mindset.  I’m in fixed mindset when I see the outcome — failure or success — as defining me.  And it’s the fixed mindset that has me read one more book, get one more opinion, shore up one more detail before starting “that” project.  After all, If I’ll be defined by the result, I’d better be darn sure I’ll succeed at it.  (Or that “L” may be emblazoned on my forehead permanently.) Yet Dweck says we can purposefully foster growth mindset by reminding ourselves that we are far more fluid than that.  We are not fixed… and neither is our fate. In fact, we are a never-ending work in progress.  Those neural pathways keep changing and developing based on what we focus and effort towards.   And, yes, even old dogs can trick themselves into looking at failure as one step in the path.  Like a tourist who understands that the destination is nowhere near as fulfilling as the journey itself…  Growth mindset helps us focus on the path — including the inherent missteps and wrong turns — that we create by moving forward.

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to experience lava flowing from a volcano to the ocean.  The sulfur smell, muggy heat, and the trudging, deliberate , indomitable progress of glowing ooze mesmerized me.  I keep a picture on my office wall of that volcano spewing golden-hot lava.  It reminds me of the power that flows from deep within me — the invincible force in all of us.  If we can release the fixed mindset, and its inherent fear of failure that immobilize us,  we can take that first step.  Like lava flowing to the sea, the path will rise up, carry us, push us onward… eventually leading us, full-circle, to the “growth” selves we were always meant to be.Lava-Lake-Springs-into-Being-atop-Volcano-in-Africa-466085-6

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

  • Wanderer, your footsteps are
    the path, and nothing else;
    wanderer, there is no path,
    the path is made by walking.
    Walking makes the path,
    and on glancing back
    one sees the path
    that will never trod again.
    Wanderer, there is no path—
    Just waves in the sea.

“Proverbios y cantares XXIX” [Proverbs and Songs 29], Campos de Castilla (1912); trans. Betty Jean Craige in Selected Poems of Antonio Machado (Louisiana State University Press, 1979)


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