Whither Leads the Cowpath?

Awakening from a nap in the warm afternoon sun, the calf was all alone. Hunger stirred, and it moved from tuft to tuft of succulent grass meandering across the meadow and trough a draw. At one point, a wind-blown tumbleweed seemed a sudden threat. The calf jumped, turned, and blindly ran to the right. With the luck of the innocent, no predator was present, and the calf soon went on to rejoin the herd.

That evening, a strolling rabbit came on the calf’s meandering route. Travel along that faint trace seemed easier than hopping through undisturbed weeds and grass, so the rabbit went where the calf had gone. Nose glued to the rabbit’s scent, a coyote followed close behind. The rabbit had become a motivated, but involuntary, leader.

Other rabbits and coyotes passed along the way wearing down the grass and weeds. The trail widened as deer browsed and rubbed shrubs along the now-visible pathway.

Then came a hunter pursuing venison, and an explorer in search of adventure. Each thought, “that track must be the easy way – it is very well used.” They, and others made the track a trail.

The years went by, people moved in, the trail became a country road, then the road became a paved highway. “Tumbleweed Bend” from the calf’s long forgotten scare became “Dead Man’s Curve” – with dubious but widely recognized fame. Danger, no less real than the coyote’s threat to the rabbit, became a part of daily life for all that used the highway.

Finally, the road department called a hearing. It asked for suggestions on whether to relocate the roadway and eliminate what was spoken of as “a most dangerous corner.” Speakers gave eloquent testimony of the risks borne by travelers. One asked, “why did you build the road with that corner in it?” The only answer was, “I don’t know, do you?”

No one could reply. No one then living knew of the warm afternoon, the calf, the tumbleweed, the rabbit, the coyote, the deer, the hunters, the explorers, and the early road builders. Even as they lived and sometimes died while traveling that wretched highway, no one knew about the animals and humans whose “follow the leader” transit of the vicinity had transformed the hoof marks of a little calf into a dangerous highway.

Do you know someone who travels along a cow path?

How do you make decisions that determine the nature of your life?

Are you one who travels along the cow path?

Do you follow the familiar way without conscious thought, and change direction when momentary events intrude? If so, your answer to “why did you”? Also may be, “I don’t know, do you?”

If this is the case, your important decisions may be made while you are in an “automatic pilot mode” that was set by persons other than yourself. If you do not select your own course, you may be ruled by the expectations of friends and family. Maybe it has always been understood that you would grow up and marry that person next door, or go to a certain school, or join the occupation of a relative. Some aspects of life may be determined by events as unexpected as the windblown tumbleweed. Someone will say, “what you ought to do is…” and on automatic pilot, you do it. You do what you do because your decisions are based on other’s opinions and governed by habit.

When the choices that shape your life are made by others – when you are not the one who sets your own course – you can not determine the important aspects of your life and well-being. Not every decision must be exhaustively examined, discussed, and debated – if you did so, you would be paralyzed by decision making. But, it is important that you make your key decisions that determine the nature of your life and your work. When this is so, you will be free of the cow path and its dangers.

Travel on the cow path takes you where others have been. In large part, it reflects past events while skirting the peaks and valleys of life. *4) Wet dogs often stink.* On the cow path, you will not be challenged to think or do your best. And it may lead you into dangerous corners that presently exist for reasons now unknown. If you want to reach your most coveted destinations – to achieve your most important goals – the cow path is not for you. To avoid it, take actions that only you can take. Know where you are going, how you intend to get there, and when you intend to arrive. Be sure you control your “automatic pilot,” while being ready and willing to re-set it when the need arises. Recognize your mindset. If it is negative, be willing to change it. Focus on making positive decisions at all levels of the decision pyramid.

Be willing to trust people – yourself and others – as trust is the basis for constructive action. Recognize that life will have many setbacks and disappointments while continuing to believe that you can have a better tomorrow.

Be willing to abandon things that do not work, and to replace them with things that you can do well.

You CAN be a winner in life – one who assesses reality and responds constructively to that reality. It may require that you change your style and approach but that can be done. Is it easy to change? Usually not. But change is possible for amateurs like us. And, change often is the key to a successful tomorrow that is better than today.