The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 4, 2011

RALPH COUEY | The road less traveled may lead to greatness

Ralph Couey
For The Tribune-Democrat

— “Two roads diverged in a wood

And I took the one less traveled by

And that made all the difference.”



– Robert Frost, 1916



There is a certain kind of comfort in routine. Despite the boredom and drudgery, you always know what to expect. What makes change so difficult, after all, is the mystery of outcome.

On the well-worn path, the branches have been brushed aside, the undergrowth compressed under countless feet. It is easy to follow such a path, both in the forest and in life.

We always look for such signs. We want to know that the way is safe, the destination known.

With that assurance, we are confident that our journey will follow others who went the same direction.

However, it is perhaps somewhat hypocritical to walk only in the same paths as others and feel that we have accomplished something ourselves.

On occasion, we will happen upon a branching path. This one is rougher, shrouded by tree limbs and tall grass. This path doesn’t appear on our maps; its end is a mystery.

We regard the trail curiously, asking ourselves, “Wonder where that one goes?”

But we continue on the familiar path – the safe path.

Great people have also come across such mysterious paths and wondered the same thing.

And yet in defiance of logic and sanity, they quit the well-traveled path for the one unknown.

Their curiosity and sense of adventure has posed a question which can be answered in only one place: At the trail’s end.

They don’t know the destination. Maybe it leads to a mountaintop, or in the cool, inviting waters of a stream or lake. Maybe it’s a shortcut around the main path. Or perhaps the trail vanishes without a trace deep in the forest. Maybe there is danger here, the risk of injury or even death.

But greatness takes the risk. Greatness leaves the path that everyone else has trod, embracing the adventure.

Whether the trail ends in success or failure, they will have found answers to questions the rest of us never knew to ask.

Life without risk is no life at all. A person can live a comfortable life by never risking, never taking chances.

But we were put here in this life with skills, talents and abilities that can be marshaled to do great things; to change the world, or at least our corner of it.

If we don’t risk; if we don’t push that envelope, we will never discover just how capable we truly are.

But if we can find the courage within to turn off the beaten path and embark on the untried and untested one, we will find out that we are more than we could have possibly imagined.

An old Nike ad slogan says it all: “Courage is a muscle. Exercise it.”

We live in a time of great troubles.

Nations, as well as individuals, are tested. If we as people, as a nation, as a human race, keep walking the well-worn path, then we will all meet the same disaster. We will all walk off the same cliff.

The familiar, the well-known, the “accepted wisdom” has led us to this place in history.

What we were told was truth has been revealed as a lie.

The people we thought were leaders have turned out to be the charlatans who sold us the lie.

In 1862, President Lincoln said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

What is required in 2011 and beyond is for all of us to find the courage within to step off in a new direction, to cast off the shrouds of routine and business as usual.

The way out of this mess lies not in the safe and familiar – it lies in the risky and unknown.

It will be a difficult walk. We may have to backtrack at times, or pause to carve out a new path.

But at the end of that walk, we will stand together in a new place; a better place, united by the shared toil of that journey.

We can then look back along the way we have come and know that when we took the less-traveled path, we made the right decision.

And that will make all the difference.

Ralph Couey is a freelance writer living in Somerset.

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