Forks in the Road

I was on my first-ever solo retreat, at a beautiful hermitage (1-person cottage) on a reservation spanning tens of acres two hours from Charlotte. I was there to reconnect with (or find) my purpose and to draft out my Life Plan. A year after I left my position as the Executive Director of a nonprofit and four years after I left my job as a corporate executive earning more money than most people could dream of making, I was at a fork in the road. One path: Continue with my coaching practice — and go all in, executing on my “marketing funnel,” creating a “social media presence” and reconciling with the fact that this was my move-forward life. Or, the other path: Give in to the inner voice of doubt, to the pull of the familiar and to get another “traditional” job.

Back to the retreat. I chose a site that was almost invisible on-line and instead relied on word of mouth referrals. A friend of mine, whom I respect deeply recommended this place, so off I went. Instead of staying in the main house, I chose to stay off the grid, in a small cottage — doubly ensuring that I could be alone with my thoughts, devoid of any of life’s intrusions and not be tempted to interact with other guests, something that comes all too naturally to me, especially while avoiding any kind of “heavy” work and contemplation. This cottage was approximately 100 yards away from the main house and from the dining room where all of our meals would be served.

The location and main house were exactly as I pictured them. Impossibly tall thin trees, acres of fall-stripped leaves on a wet ground and the faint sound of small animals and a waterfall in the near distance. I checked in and then drove a short distance to my home for the weekend. The cottage was quaint, just as described and more than I needed. It was both rustic and modern, with nice touches that softly said, “Welcome.” I settled my bags and promptly went out to explore the area, to find walking paths and to get a general lay of the land. I took a 45-minute walk and it was spectacular. Nothing but trees, a well-maintained path and silence, lots of it. I was relieved that the first path I took went around in a circle and didn’t require me to use my cellphone GPS to get me back to civilization. I went back to my room, prepped for the next day of writing, then just after darkness fell over the reservation, I set off for the dining room with my industrial-strength flashlight. It was fairly easy to find the main building in the dark, as it was well lit and there was only one path option from my cottage.

The dinner was lovely, prepared by loving hands, covering all the food-groups and also delicious. Another guest joined me, also there alone and we talked as if we were fast friends for over an hour. There seemed to be a special bond that formed between two women on a parallel retreat to soul-find. We bid goodnight and I set off into the dark for my cottage. And here’s where my first weekend a-ha happened.

Coming back to the cottage, the path had a fork with two options. Unlike the main-building, my cottage was not all lit up. Thankfully, I had decided to leave one light on and could now make it out from a distance. Which way to turn on the path, though? This I have learned over my life: I have absolutely no natural sense of direction. If I find myself at forks in the road, I have no recollection of the right or wrong turn, no matter how many times I have been at the same fork. So, picture this: I can see the small light through the window of my cottage from a distance. The two paths at the fork both lead into darkness and my flashlight only illuminates about 15 feet in front of me. I chose the path on the left. Nothing seems familiar and it is pitch dark in all directions. I have the destination in my view — and you guessed it, the path runs out. My cottage is fairly close, so I think, “I can get there, no problem.” No problem, except that since it had been raining for days, the non-fortified ground was a red-clay mess and who knows what would happen if I were to slip, fall and hurt myself. There was construction in my pathway, so the thought occurred that I could get tangled, fall into a ditch, or whatever. A small panic began to come over me. Are there animals, or other things that could pop out of the woods?

I’ll jump to the end … I made it safely. My shoes and the bottom of my pants were coated in mud and I had to laugh at myself for a bit. Once I was inside, dry and warm once again, I couldn’t help but to put my little trip into perspective. Here’s what I know of myself and what plays out on a pretty regular basis. I have no sense of direction. I often take the wrong fork in the road and usually, even if I’ve taken that same darn fork before, I don’t know it until it’s too late. That said, I also know this. When I am healthy and when I take care of myself, I am quietly confident, having the stick-to-itiveness to overcome, to navigate and to go towards that (sometimes faint) light that is my purpose, that is my “right thing” and I do so with a sense of humor, with a sense of adventure and with a sense of knowing that I’m in it for the right reasons. Today, I find myself at a fork in the road, placing enormous gravity on either choice, professionally speaking. Most of it is in my mind. Most of it isn’t as heavy as I make it out to be. But, most of all — as long as I have a light to close in on, I know I can get there, muddy shoes notwithstanding. That’s my vision for this weekend — refocus on my purpose, my light.

Do you have a clear purpose?


Cindi Basenspiler provides leadership and success coaching to individuals and teams facing their biggest challenges. Customized programs hold clients accountable for forming strong systems, processes and habits. Are you considering hiring a coach to help you navigate a challenge, to become a better you? To get more information, visit my website.