We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle
They say that you learn something new everyday. That was certainly true last Friday, when I learned, or so I thought, that “trailblaze” is technically incorrect. I went on a walk a few days ago with two friends, Davison and Orien, from work. Every other Friday, we leave school to go on trails, taking in the great scenery of the east coast of Barbados. Part of the trail took us through a field that recently had a fire. Davison made an observation that really struck a chord with me.
“You guys ever noticed that the fire never burns the trail itself?”
I was about to respond ‘yes’ automatically, but then realised that I hadn’t fully taken stock of it. No matter how much the grass would have burned, the path always finds a way to stand out. After thinking what a profound realisation that was, I told myself to be cool, and stop over-analysing the situation. Clearly, this was an internal debate, because I replied to myself, “But it’s true. A well-beaten path cannot be easily destroyed.” (I know I’m not the only one that has these mental “discussions” 🙂 .)
If you’re going to be as literal as I was, yes, it’s hard to burn a trail that has already been established. Similarly, it’s not easy to burn a trail that is only just being created. As I’ve said before, anything of substance in life is a process. Perhaps the word trailblaze is not incorrect, but my perception of the word has been skewed all this time. Burning a trail for others to see sounds like it’s a one-off event. Strike a match, get some flames going, and bam! – there’s your trail. Not likely. In truth, it is a series of consistent and determined acts that etch a permanent feature on the land. Having been a member of the Duke of Edinburgh International Award Programme for almost 5 years now, I should really know this. Hiking in the bush doesn’t automatically create a path, but hiking in the same area of bush several times over and over sure will.
There’s something very intentional about leaving a mark behind. Not only is there a specific set of actions that you have to carry out, but you have to do them repeatedly in order to have any real effect. Trailblazing, therefore, is about the behaviours and habits that are willfully and persistently done. Speaking of habit, you know when you’re looking to buy a specific car, all of a sudden, you see everyone that passes? That’s how I feel about the word ‘habit’. It automatically registers in my mind whenever I see or hear it. I think that’s my subconscious telling me that I have a few to change.
Habit-changing, being intentional, having self-discipline…all those things are not easy options, so most people avoid them, and the road less travelled becomes an opportunity for someone to make a mark, become a pioneer, a thought leader, a success. Not an overnight one (Do those really exist?), but one in the end. Being consistent in mundane, insignificant-seeming things can be a challenge too, because you wonder, ‘what’s the point?’ I ask that question sometimes when I’m at work, or sitting in from of the computer. But I still want to know that I’ve done what I’m doing well.
It means, then, that making my mark is about not giving up on that boy who persists in disrupting class and being rude and uncooperative, when I really just want to send him to the principal’s office, but finding a way to help him get through whatever challenges he may be having. It’s about not giving up on Merry Sole, even when I set goals that I don’t come close in reaching, struggle at times to write, and post once in a blue moon. It’s about doing as Galations 6:9 says – not becoming tired of doing good, because once you do not give up, the time will come when you will reap the harvest. The process can be quite unglamorous, and the discouragement becomes so very real (like when you’re writing a thesis). It’s the purpose of setting the trail that keeps your feet in motion. And if you want excellence, then like Aristotle was basically saying, you can’t afford to stop.