My co-worker and I had recently traveled to Spokane, Washington, an amazingly beautiful place. We found some time to get out of the office and take in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. As is usual when I travel, I managed to find where the rock cliffs were. And where there are cliffs, there's adventure. I'M THERE.
When we arrived, we climbed for a bit, but then followed a trail that led to the top of a small mountain. We followed the path all the way to the top where we could see for miles. It was a good day. On the way down, we followed a different path, but at a certain point, as I led, the path split into two. In the few seconds as I neared the the fork, I observed the two paths. For some reason I wasn't satisfied with either.
Just then, I saw a deer trail that continued straight; not on the path to the left or to the right. My mind wandered quickly as I thought of the added challenges on the deer trail, ducking under branches and possibly having to step over logs and rocks. I knew it would be more difficult, but I thought, "What if we saw a deer?" It wasn't a guarantee. "Who knows? We may not see anything at all." So what did I do? I decided to take it anyway. About fifteen steps in, I heard a laugh behind me as my co-adventurer witnessed my decision to take the deer trail. He said, "Paul, this is just like you."
Since then, I've reflected on the decision I made at that moment. There was a deer trail and that was the road less traveled to me. It was harder to travel, but as it turned out, the reward was worth it: we passed by four deer as they grazed among the undergrowth without even knowing we were there. Robert Frost was right when he wrote, "I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
A friend of mine and well-known author, Mike Thompson, writes in his book, The Anywhere Leader, about an how a leader needs to be reflective. He talks about how "reflection is the thinking process behind curiosity – the internal acquisition of knowledge." He goes on to talk about how our reflection is dependent on our experiences, and the more experiences we have, the more reflective of a leader we will be. Reading about experiences is okay, but when you truly experience a "deer trail," you remember every detail of it. You are able to use it to inspire you and others through many different situations.
You may be hesitant to take an adventure in the woods by yourself. You may wonder why you would even touch a new food, let alone put it in your mouth. You may think that you would be out of your "class" if you went to that conference because you may not be the most knowledgeable one there. All these examples are experiences where I have had to push myself to do them. When they came up, I reflected back on my experiences and that has "made all the difference."
The next time you have an opportunity to "take a deer trail," I encourage you fill your curiosity and gain an experience that you can reflect back on. I guarantee that it will deepen your ability to lead yourself and those that you have the opportunity to lead.