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We get a fair amount of flies in my house in the summer, mostly from letting the dogs in and out and in and out and in and out all day. We do have a fly swatter, but I hate to use it because, well, squashing flies against the wall is gross. I prefer to perform a daily prisoner release ritual.

We open our kitchen window a lot, so I can understand why the flies gravitate to that spot. It’s the closest thing they get to being totally free. The screen is a chain link fence (minus the barbed wire) that keeps them from flying back into the real world. They pace up and down that fence looking for a way out. I can almost hear them muttering, “I can’t be in here, I gots 10,000 babies to feed!”

Being the benevolent and kind warden that I am, I lift the screen so they can fly back to their families or the closest pile of dog poo, whichever they choose. I don’t judge.

Of course they don’t realize the screen is open. They continue to pace up and down the screen until finally they reach the frame that holds the screen together. At this point, they realize, “Hey, this is different. Maybe I should explore this.”

Here’s the weird part. After walking the entire length of the screen, which is about 18 inches tall, They will stand FOREVER on the frame, which is about an inch and a half tops. They poke around with their front feet, walk right up to the edge — repeatedly — then turn around and walk away, sometimes even retreating back to the screen for awhile before attempting the frame walk again.

Now, I may be projecting my own feelings onto these flies, but I’m pretty sure they want to be free. After all, they could fly freely through the house for weeks. My anti-fly-swatter policy must be well known in the fly community by now. But they congregate on my kitchen window screen, taking in the lush landscape just out of reach, longing (again, my projection) to feel the wind in the little hairs on their legs.

So, why do they stand there, millimeters from what they want, and not just reach out and take it?

I can so relate to these creatures. I have often been *this close* to something I want or need and not taken it, or have taken forever to make that final step over the edge. In fact, I would say this is a regular occurrence in my life. There are many reasons why I’ve been reluctant to take that final step in the past, but there is one more common than the rest:


The Fear Of The Wrong Path

What if I take that job and it’s not what I thought it was? What if I buy that car and it turns out to be a lemon? What if I tell my wife what I really want and she thinks I’m crazy? What if I move to Paris and discover I hate French food, even fresh crêpes filled with Nutella?

Fear of the wrong path is really fear of the unknown that focuses on a crappy outcome instead of a magnificent one. Here are two things I try to remember when the fear of the wrong path keeps me from stepping over the edge into something new:

1. There is no wrong path.
There are more enjoyable and less enjoyable paths for sure, but every path has value, even if that value is helping me learn what I don’t like or what to avoid in the future.

2. I can get off the path any time I want.
I’m a committed guy. When I choose a path, I feel like I need to complete it, or at least give it the old college try. I sometimes forget that if a path aint workin’ for me, I can always choose another path. Granted, changing paths may carry costs or consequences, but those are usually short term. A friend of mine asked me recently, “Would you rather have short term pain or long term pain? It’s your choice.” Wise words.

3. I make more right decisions than bad ones.
I’ve made millions of decisions in my life, mostly good ones. And I haven’t made a bad decision yet that killed me. The moral of this point is that I can trust myself. I can trust myself to make a good decision and I can trust that if I do make a bad decision, I’ll figure it out.

Back to my story about the flies. Watching the flies finally step over the edge is perhaps the most fascinating part of the whole prison release ritual. Rarely do they climb on top of the frame and take off right away. Typically, they stand there motionless for several moments. I believe in those moments they are reflecting at where they’ve been and laughing at themselves for being so timid about those last few steps. Then, literally (because my kitchen window faces west), they zoom off into the sunset as free as they can be.

I know that feeling. It’s the exhilarating feeling I get when I decide the new path is worth exploring and I step fully into it. Some of the feeling comes from finally removing the weight of the decision, but more often than not that exhilaration is due to the fact that the new path is WAY better than I imagined or way better than the path I was on.

A recent example for me is my decision to buy a cabin. It’s been a dream of mine forever. I have a vision of using a cabin as a personal retreat, but also generously sharing it with friends, family, and people who might not be able to afford to take a vacation (but really need/deserve one). I’ve been dragging my feet for at least TWO YEARS. I’ve used the excuse that I just haven’t found the right property yet. The truth is that I’ve been afraid of taking the wrong path, afraid I’ll buy a cabin and it won’t be as awesome as I thought it would be and then I’ll be stuck with a cabin that I don’t want after all. I’ve been standing on the edge of the screen like a scaredy fly.

I find stating it out loud often strips away much of the fear because I’m forced to hear it outside of my head, and my fear often sounds downright silly.

Your turn. What path are you not stepping fully into? Why not?



sparkspace drink cupAs a reward for interacting and leaving comments, I’m giving stuff away. This week I will be giving away one of our super cool drink cups that we sell at sparkspace. It says “Try Not To Be Distracted By My Awesome.” Our guests LOVE these and I think you should have one on your desk (because, well, you’re awesome). That’s why I’m giving away one to someone who leaves a comment. Before next week’s post, I’ll drop the names in a hat, draw a winner, and announce it next week.

We had so many great comments on last week’s post: Removing “Perfect” Roadblocks. Thank you to everyone who commented.

As promised, last week’s winner of one of my favorite books, “The Big Leap” was Sonya Ramsey. Congrats Sonya. Keep the comments coming!

About mark henson

Mark is the founder of sparkspace...the most inspirational business retreat center on the planet. His blog is read by thousands worldwide each week. Mark's passion is sharing ideas that help people live and lead a rockstar life.

  • Janie Williams Sahayda

    Great article!! I can relate wholeheartedly! You are right that there really is no wrong path and there are many choices of turns and detours we can take on our paths!

    • It is SO easy to focus on the path or choice right in front of us and forget that there will be exits, other paths, and lots of other ways to navigate our lives in the future.

  • vmwiseguy

    The fly story is actually quite interesting and a good way to frame these thoughts on choosing a new path. When bored on vacation I’ve watched flies do the same kind of thing and it is fascinating. Granted, the ‘bored on vacation’ can be counted on one hand. With three fingers tied behind your back.

    You really hit a good topic and that is on Trust. Leadership is about building trust and being the kind of person people can trust to do the right things. A large part of that is trusting yourself too! It is also knowing we have the strength and good people around us to get up and move on if we goof up. And we will – more than once. “We do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up!” (Sorry for the movie reference!)

    I enjoyed the wisdom here. It may be time for ME to take the cabin idea seriously.

    • Tell you what. I’ll buy one if you will. 😉

      • vmwiseguy

        I just may take you up on that! Is yours in a non-constant-rain zone? 🙂

  • Rachel Lewis

    Great analogy! Moving forward in a new direction can can be hard, and this is a nice reminder that sometimes we need to take the leap and “fly” 😉

    • Thanks, Rachel. When you leap, it kinda forces you to fly, right?

  • Deanna Wright

    Such a simple way to look at our decisions. Encouragement to always be open to inspiration in our everyday and have confidence to keep going.

  • Donnell Thompson

    This was great! I’ve had a few instances in my life when I was too afraid I was making the wrong choice. My life is great and I don’t have any regrets but I look back at a couple of decisions “not to act” as big missed opportunities.

    • Yep. I’m with ya. I definitely have more pangs of regret over things I didn’t do than over things I did.

  • What an amazing article. It took my lunch break from boring drab sandwich bites while responding to emails to wondering what paths I should explore now. What can I do a little differently in my afternoon…week…year…life… I can’t wait to find out! (But I may have to say them outloud so I’m not afraid)

    • Most people don’t want to think about flies while they eat their sandwich, Marsha, ha ha! Glad you liked it. If you’re so inclined, feel free to share a path you’re considering here. Would love to hear it!

      • I think this afternoon I am really going to apply myself to saying “No”. (GASP!) I am leading multiple projects at this time on top of normal daily work, yet I get multiple requests through the day to do stuff that’s “easier” if I do it. Mainly because I have taken the time to learn the processes or programs required. None of this is “make or break” business decisions just others work they haven’t taken the time to follow through with.

  • Laura

    Great article. I can relate this fear of the wrong path situation to many of the decisions I am currently making. Even though my decisions are being made for my new home, not my career. And I too, wonder why that fly/bug will not just go free!!

    • Laura, do you find that the bigger the commitment (like a house), the bigger the fear?

  • Debbie Pendell

    Thanks, Mark! Besides having the fear of financial consequences, I think my main fear is that I will invest my time and energy, i.e. myself in something that will yield no return. I consider my time and energy too valuable to waste it when I could have used the same efforts toward an endeavor that was profitable, be that money, or relaxation, or family time. I hate wasted energy! So I love your first point!

    • Debbie, I am very familiar with that fear. I’ll admit, the older I get, the more I tend to worry about wasting my time, knowing that time is limited on this earth (something I never thought about when I was 25). So, how do you evaluate what will be profitable vs. a waste?

      • Debbie Pendell

        Great question! I think that dilemma is why people are constantly signing up for webinars and teleconferences. We just want someone to tell us that ” ____ is a waste of time. Do _____.” You can’t always tell if your efforts will pay off until your are well into the project or until after it is finished. At this stage of my life (yes, after 25), I follow three paradigms:
        1) it will be a waste of time if I compromise my values-time for family and whatever I need to be healthy, which encompasses rest and less stress;
        2) if I don’t know if it will be profitable or a waste, replace fear with an adventurous mindset, which allows me to laugh at my mistakes/wasted effort if that should be the case;
        3) if it ends up being a wasted effort, stay grounded-weigh the wasted energy against the grand scheme of things. In light of everything is this the worst thing that could happen? Usually not.
        And I quote John Ruskin’s word, “The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” Even the mistakes are the making of the man/woman, hence your first point.

  • Mike

    My wife and I both have paths we are afraid to start, hers is going back to school, mine is looking for another job. I like my job, I love what I get to do and my co-workers I am just afraid the job will be going away soon. So how do I start on this path without feeling like I am leaving my friends behind?

    • Mike, Is it the “friendship” or the “camaraderie” you’re worried about leaving behind? True friendships are usually not as hard to maintain as we think they might be because both sides make sure it happens. I’ve known people who move from a group/team setting to something more isolated and they miss the group interaction more than any particular friendships.

  • Mike Clouse

    Ugh…This will be no surprise to you Mark. And this article hits me right between the eyes. I’m not sure that I have any better opportunity than I do right now to step out on my own as a Coach. Fear of the “wrong path” is the only thing holding me back. Thanks for taking away my excuse. LOL! Time to make a decision.

    • I will chip away at you until you leap off that ledge. 😉

  • Danielle

    Great article Mark! I especially loved the advice to trust our instincts – we really do make the best decisions for ourselves.

  • Tom Ventling

    Very well written! I really enjoyed it. I liked the 2-no 3 things to remember. I’ve been staring at the big backyard and clinging to the screen.

    • Ha! I originally had 2 things, then thought of a third while I was writing. Nice to know someone pays that much attention. Now let go of that screen.

  • Betsy Schneider

    I think the key is to believe in yourself and surround yourself with champions who will help you with that push off the ledge if you need a little support. I recently completed my MBA at the ripe old age of 50. It was super scary to start the process but I’m so glad I did for so many reasons – the learning, the friends, the confidence and the value I now bring to my job. JUMP!

    • That’s fantastic, Betsy! So, where is your MBA path taking you now?

  • Liz Solomon

    Great post (and analogy)!! I find myself so often frozen by the fear of taking the wrong path. Someone recently suggested to me, in addition to the automatic envisioning I do of the worst possible outcome, to spend some time pondering the best possible result of making a decision, too. Really appreciate your advice above!

    • I like that. Make the “worst case” thinking a trigger to force yourself to think of the “best case” scenario. At least then you have a choice of what to believe in.

  • Sarah Brenamen

    Another great article that fits into my life perfectly… I enjoyed this one so much that I passed it a long to a friend who could use some help letting go of that screen herself. Thanks for giving us the push to let go!!

    • Thanks for sharing, Sarah! So, what path are you not stepping fully into?

  • Allen Lloyd

    Number 2 is so true. A year ago I took on a job that just didn’t work for me or my organization. Today I am out of that job and back where I belong. I learned a great deal in that year and grew as a person, but it was something that wasn’t sustainable.

    Also congrats on the cabin, I pined away for a Miata for close to 10 years and now that I have one I find myself just sitting in it sometimes and thinking about how stupid it was to put off buying one for so long.

    Another thing I have noticed about screen flies is even if one flies away others will continue to cling to the screen. We all need to look around to see how others are letting go and flying away instead of staying stuck to what we think is keeping us alive.

    • I’m picturing you sitting in your Miata in your garage, smiling from ear-to-ear and it makes me smile, too. Kudos for the job switch, too. That is a completely fearful situation for most people — requires obliteration of most people’s comfort zones. By having the courage to switch, you’ve become one of those inspirational flies to the ones still clinging onto the screen. Thanks!

      • Allen Lloyd

        This happens more than most people would consider normal 🙂

        Some days you just have to jump off the screen and do that thing that scares you to show yourself you can do it. Last week I was working an event for the London Cobra Show (I saw a Cobra when I was 5 and ever since have wanted to drive one) and the owner of Factory 5 handed me the keys to one of their demo cars and let me drive it on track. I was terrified as I had never driven something so powerful and light. Each lap I pushed a little harder and I was able to push the gas pedal into the carpet a few times and felt like I was going into warp speed. It is something that will stay with me forever. I am so glad I took the jump and that I didn’t end up crashing the car 🙂

  • Sharon DeSize

    Ding Ding Ding…this is me…I recently took the plunge and bought a new car after years of thinking about it and yet I still felt regret that my 18 year old car still had some miles left in her. My catalyst for moving forward was that I didn’t want to invest in 2 new tires after blowing a tire and replacing it with my spare. In test driving the car I kept thinking it had so many features I didn’t even need and I waffled back and forth about it. I loved the safety my old car provided me, I knew every move it could make, every noise that came out of it… it was familiar. I never worried if someone dinged my door or about the potential to have an accident! I rationalized by telling myself that I didn’t always have to wait for something to break to get something new. I have new and different feelings for this new car…it rides smooth and quiet; I have this sense of pride as I zip through town and I no longer feel the need to park at the back of the lot so people don’t see my poor beat up friend. I still worry about the decision I made but each day those worries fade away. I think the XM radio helps!

    • Funny how we drag our feet on things, huh. Partly due to attachment and partly due to fear. I remember struggling over a decision to trade my “nice” car in for a much lesser car when I was working hard to get out of debt. I called my brother (who had just gone through something similar) and his advice to me was priceless. He told me, “I’ve bought a $50,000 car and I’ve bought a $900 car. After a week, they’re both just a car.” That wisdom has helped me with so many decisions since then!

  • Emily

    Oh Man! Mark this was so on point for me right now. I am in the middle of the interview process to change my career from corporate to education! I have wanted this change for so long (I went to school to be an art teacher). For 10 years I have dreamed of the chance to be a teacher in a school and now that I’m interviewing I’m scared to death of making the switch. I even thought of pulling my name from the pool of applicants! So many thoughts about all the negatives and if I would truly enjoy being a teacher. If I get the offer, I’m going for it. I never want to regret not giving it a chance! Thanks!

    • Emily, that is EXCITING! I know you’ve probably heard the question “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” There’s a challenging question I like even better: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you would be super successful doing it?” Satisfaction & success is about more than avoiding failure. It’s about contributing our gifts the best way we possibly can. You’ll be awesome at teaching. I can feel it.

  • Dawn

    Each time I’ve made a move within my company, I’ve felt like this. Of course, those feelings are unfounded. My most recent move at the start of the year has turned out to perhaps not be my best move yet. I needed to read this sentence, “but every path has value, even if that value is helping me learn what I don’t like or what to avoid in the future.” Thank you for giving me some perspective. 🙂

  • One Voice Worship

    As always, spot on! We are smack in the middle of stepping into a new path as we transition out of being business owners and corporate marketplace contributors and into vocational ministry, which we’ve been engaged in for almost 13 years in a secondary “part-to-full-time” capacity. It’s terrifying but exhilarating at the same time. We’ve been considering scaling back my 40+ full time corporate job hours to better accommodate this transition, but with recent layoffs at my corporate job (and since I’m the primary breadwinner and insurance carrier in my home) I’m hesitant to ask my employer to scale back my hours by one day a week, even though doing so would still make me eligible for benefits and we could financially handle this income change because of the difference made in doing what I love to do. I’ve been dancing on the window frame for a while now, and this simple step forward could offer me the time needed for investing into my voice studio where I presently teach part-time in the evenings, as well as into the church we’re starting which is requiring a LOT of time…not to mention adding some desperately needed margin back into our lives! The fear of any fallout personally or professionally has been overriding the courage to step out in faith, as well as waiting for the “perfect” timing and circumstances to make this change…which is unrealistic in itself and just plain silly. It’s just fear shrouded in excuses! And as your blog post so eloquently stated, if this path doesn’t work out, I can get off of it any time! So, I’m praying over proposing this change as a 3-month trial to my employer. This could be the next step towards living a totally different life in the months and years to come, or it could prove to be less than ideal. Either way, I can’t lose! I only lose when I give into fear over faith, and that is NOT the life I was created to live. It’s time to fly to freedom! Thanks as always for your lighthearted yet impactful wisdom. We look forward to it every week!
    PS: Congrats on the cabin! That is AWESOME!!!! That’s a bucket list item for us too, as we try to vacate to a TN cabin every few years…it’s our ideal escape! Enjoy it!

    • When I started sparkspace, I took a year to transition out of my former job. I was very nervous to ask them if I could cut my hours back, but they agreed! Then a few months later, I went back and asked to cut back even more (pretty much to half time), and I was shocked that they agreed again!

      I feel like I was a great employee for them before I asked, and I worked hard to make sure I did great work for them even after I cut my hours back. Truthfully, I’m sure I worked many more hours than I got paid for, but the peace of mind I got in return during the transition was worth it.

  • Lynnette Cook

    Just seeing this now, but love the article. I wonder if part of the fear of taking a new path is fear of the judgment of others. “What will [they] think?” – and you can slide parents, friends, colleagues, the neighbors, etc in and out of being the “they”. It’s as if we have a vision of who others expect us to be, and we put so much stock in their opinion that we struggle to be who we think we should be.

    As usual – great motivation for us to look at our own behavior (and maybe work on stopping judgment when others switch their paths!)

    • I think you’re right. Fear of judgement is one of the most paralyzing fears there is.

  • Daphne Smith

    This is an article to be shared! And I will do so. i see too many people trapped by fear, screens, and fences- both real and imagined. The real ones are easy to deal with as one knows when the literal break through happens. The restrictions in our mind are the more difficult ones. Thank you for insight and transparency. I know I am not fully stepping into my passion due to fear of lack. If I give up total control then I must become fully dependent on my true source of provision. It’s time to take the leap, make the escape, let go, and experience the rewards of the breakthrough. I am brave and I am free!

    • Go, Daphne, go!

      • Daphne Smith

        Keep sharing great content Mark. Keep living YOURdream.