The Road You’re On

Which matters most: the road you’ve chosen for yourself and your business; or your commitment to that choice?

A resource that gets used a lot in my world is the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, from his 1920 book: Mountain Interval.

It’s a very inspirational poem and what people usually like most about it are the last two lines, where Frost is talking about the two roads that he could have walked into the woods:

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

It’s easy to see how this is so inspiring.

Choosing the unknown path, and dealing with all of the hardships and tests along the way, is a great reflection of everybody’s life and work experience. None of us really know what lies ahead and all of us have had trials and tribulations as well as joys and accomplishments along the way.

And yet, re-reading the poem again this morning, I wondered if perhaps I’ve been misunderstanding Frost’s emphasis.

I was struck by the end of the second verse and the beginning of the third, where he’s making the choice about which road to take. One track is grassier than the other, and yet he bothers to tell us:

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

It made me realise that both of these roads are unknown to Frost’s morning traveller.
Yes, he took the one that was a bit grassier, but actually they were really about the same.

And (with apologies for the huge sideways leap here but this is how my head works), I was reminded of doing a series of exercises around ‘White Space Analysis’ on my MBA. This is where you investigate a couple of criteria that are important to buyers in a particular market – Price and Quality, for example – and then plot all of the current offerings in that market onto a grid, to see where there might be some white space for a new offering.


What I remember most about doing that exercise over the weekend at college and then just a week or so later taking part in a marketing strategy programme back in the large organisation where I worked, was this:

With one or two exceptions perhaps, there really wasn’t a whole lot of viable white space anywhere in any market. At first glance, almost everywhere you looked, some business was already doing something that more or less fit the criteria. To really make the most of the white space exercise, you had to look beyond that first glance, to include:

  • nuance – where is there some nearly-white space?
  • competences and culture – what nearly-white space can we thrive in by virtue, say, of our innovation and/or our resilience?

That is what Frost was really saying I think. That all roads are actually already travelled a bit; just not by us. That our choice of what road to take will be determined by a nuance – the grass is slightly less worn on one track, maybe – but that it’s our choice nevertheless. That for every road we do take, one remains not taken and can never be known and should not be regretted. That what really makes a difference is not which road you choose but your commitment to being totally on it.

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. How do you feel about your choice of the road you’re on – and what was involved in that?


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers




2 replies
  1. Ian Knowles
    Ian Knowles says:

    I agree Nick. I find a companion reflection in TS Elliott’s Little Gidding (The Four Quartets). The concept of exploration but ending up where you started but knowing it for the firsttime, is recognising your growth through exploration and as you say it isn’t the road you choose but your commitment to that road and seeking that self contentment ‘that cost not less than everything’.

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.
    T. S. Eliot- 1955Through the unknown, unremembered gate
    When the last of earth left to discover
    Is that which was the beginning;
    At the source of the longest river
    The voice of the hidden waterfall
    And the children in the apple-tree

    Not known, because not looked for
    But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
    Between two waves of the sea.
    Quick now, here, now, always–
    A condition of complete simplicity
    (Costing not less than everything)
    And all shall be well and
    All manner of thing shall be well
    When the tongues of flames are in-folded
    Into the crowned knot of fire
    And the fire and the rose are one.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *