Steve Jobs once said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect the dots looking backward.” This has been so true of my life. At times I am awed by the seemingly random choices and opportunities that have taken me from point to point throughout my life. This is the story of spontaneous awareness of one such path.
From the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, I had the pleasure of teaching for the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada. From 1985 until I left Reno in 2007, I taught over 10,000 judges from around the world. One of my greatest joys in those years was traveling to teach judges in countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, and Canada.
The truth of Steve Jobs words came to me in an unexpected way. I was teaching judges in Kyrgystan when my hosts decided to take us on a picnic in the mountains. They cooked shashlik (shishkabob) over an open fire and we ate fruits and breads.
As we were enjoying our picnic, a man came up the road toward us leading horses. I commented how much fun it would be to ride a horse on this mountain road. It was a passing comment, joy in the moment.
After finishing our picnic, we drove further into the mountain and there was the man with his horses. My hosts smiled at me. “Your wish comes true. Ride.” I was shocked. “Ride?!”, I asked. “Ride horse down mountain road.” they said. The horseman gestured me to a horse and helped me mount. “Go.”, he said. I did! My friends gestured me back down the mountain. “We wait for you.” Everyone else got back in the van and they drove slowly past me. The man took the rest of his horses down a different path.
So I found myself, on a horse, riding alone down a mountain road in Kyrgystan. It was bliss! It was beautiful and silent. It was magical.
Suddenly I was overwhelmed. I realized I l could never have imagined, as a small town girl from Urbana, Ohio that one day I would be riding a horse down a rocky mountain road in Kyrgystan. And yet, here I was. I sat with that for a bit, enjoying my moment of solitude as the horse took me back to my friends. At the end of my ride, I looked back. The path was clear and direct, as was my path from Urbana, Ohio to this mountain in Kyrgystan. It was a straight, clear path I had not foreseen nor even imagined I was on. It was a path I had followed for years through serendipitous event after serendipitous event. And it had brought me here. I wondered where it would take me next.
My life philosophy is to take whatever opportunities present themselves. That’s how I ended up teaching judges at the National Judicial College. That’s how I ended up riding a horse in Kyrgyzstan. That is how I have ended up many places in my life. In a lot of ways, this story isn’t really about teaching judges, or riding horses down mountain roads, or traveling from Ohio to Kyrgyzstan. It’s about recognizing paths. And taking the time to honor them.
I guess if there is a moral to this story it is to take chances, to take the opportunities that come our way, even if we have no idea where they will lead. Take the chance to change paths when they no longer serve. Keep moving forward. And every once in a while, take the time to look back at the path that brought you to where you are. Because when we look back, the path from there to here will be straight and clear.