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There have been many lessons I’ve learned over the years, but one of the greatest is the importance of following your own path.

Your path is yours and yours alone. Don’t follow someone else’s path because it’s what they want you to do or compare yourself to others. When you’re brave enough to do whatever it is you’re supposed to do, you will be fulfilled. Living a life of purpose, your purpose, no matter how much education or money you have leads to feelings of contentment and joy. When you’re happy with where you are in life, you’ll be happy for others. When you’re frustrated with where you are in life, you’ll be jealous of others. You’ll feel the world owes you because the hole that’s inside you needs to be filled. Fill it and watch what happens.

When you follow your own path, not knowing if you’ll get to where you’re going, it requires bravery, strength, failure, and commitment; the exact things you need to be successful. In Cheryl Strayed’s  words: “We don’t reach the mountaintop from the mountaintop. We start at the bottom and climb up. Blood is involved.” (BRAVE ENOUGH by Cheryl Strayed)

If you don’t learn how to climb, you’ll never appreciate the view. Or even if you do, once you fall, how will you ever have the courage to begin again? If life is too easy how will you learn to rise when you fall?

And for all my high school and college students who I talk to who continually stress because either they are unsure of their path or their path is nothing like their peers, Ms. Strayed has more words for you: “You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards.”  Be what you want to be not what you think will impress others. If you need to impress because you believe it will earn you respect then guess what? It’s that same hole inside of you that whispers you’re not enough. Respect is earned through caring and kindness. Think of the people who matter the most to you. Do you care about them, respect them because of their title or because they made you feel special? A few weeks ago I was subbing and some high school students started talking negatively about their teacher. I asked them to stop. They did. Then one very smart young lady said, “He just hasn’t figured out that he can’t demand respect, he has to earn it.”

When you follow your path it isn’t about wanting respect from others it’s about doing something that has meaning to you–helping others. It’s about immersing yourself in work because more times than not it brings you joy. Finding what it is you want to do with your life can be stressful. Ask any high school or college student. The key is to listen only to yourself and to be brave enough to journey on that path even if it doesn’t take you in the same direction as everyone else. Be brave. Be you!