I frequently parroted this parable as a way to remind or convince (persuade?) myself that I was going the right direction. It served to counter my backwards glances, my fears that I had made the wrong choice somewhere along the line. This perspective assumed that there was a “one true path” for my career/life.
I recognize now that it was a reaction to my fear of failure, combined with a view that changing paths/directions equated to failure. (This translates more like a is more like a compass arrow, swirling around and can only point to the one true path.)
Then I stopped using the phrase as often. I went through a time when I felt adrift. I questioned the path I was on. I questioned the direction the arrow was taking. I no longer found confidence or reassurance in that proverb. I felt fear that the direction I HAD taken was the wrong one and now it was too late to turn around and try a different direction.
After swinging widely between two extremes, I have found a new perspective. From here, I can see the trajectory of this arrow and I think I understand the real meaning of that phrase. I always thought that it was what you said when you had to choose between two (or more) things and that you can’t have both. Don’t regret the path not taken, but focus on the path you are on.
Instead, the arrow can only go one direction. But my grandma never said it was a straight line. The arrow (the physical arrow) points one direction, but maybe it’s path can meander and even circle back
I look at the long arc of my life’s arrow and see how all my experiences along the way have added to who I am. Consider that there is no correct terminus for this arrow, but rather it is about the path it makes, it is a reminder that life moves forward. The next step is simply the next step. (Yes, this is a version of “its the journey that matters”.)
It still serves as a reminder not to dwell on regrets of the past, however it allows for greater recognition of the past’s influences.
This idea is encapsulated in a scene and song from Moana that always stirs my emotions – “I am Moana/Ancestors Song”
Her grandma sings:
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are
The people you love will change you
The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you
It is that journey. The arrow goes forward, not backward. (Going back home after college isn’t going backward, it is still a forward moving journey.)
The arrow is playing a game of connect the dots, or an episode of the Heroine Podcast described it, piecing together a career constellation. A constellation is not a straight line and no single interpretation is wrong. Zoom out to have perspective on the larger image.
This isn’t meant to be a platitude to dismiss the pains and setbacks we’ve endured thus far in our life. For me, it helps to articulate how I can to be at the place I am at and how those experiences will guide the next steps I take.
Oh the wisdom of grandmas:
Side note: A huge thank you to the friends and friends-of-friends who contributed to a little cultural forensic investigation into the origins of this phrase. Thanks for asking your family members. We don’t have a clear attribution of the quote, so if it is something you’ve heard a family member say please let me know!