Do you ever wonder where your path in life is going? Or maybe you’re always being told contradicting advice. “Take this job!” “That’s a bad decision,” etc. You are not alone, but this metaphor might help to explain how being uncertain in life is not necessarily a bad thing.
A few days ago, I was given a ride in a hot air balloon as a gift! I had never taken one before and needless to say I was buzzing for it as soon as I heard. What I didn’t realize was that I was going to come away from the experience with more than memories of soaring above the clouds and through valleys. I was going to come away with the suggestion of a new way of looking at my path in life. When we returned from the flight to the house where I was staying, I was talking to my mother’s partner about the experience. He had known people who fly balloons for a long time and had been watching them go up and around the valley for years. He shared with me a perspective on life, derived from the techniques of flying a hot air balloon.
“There are 3 kinds of air balloon pilots. One goes up into the air currents, picks a current of wind and lets the balloon flow with the direction of the wind. One goes up, and begins to make careful, calculated switches between wind currents where they merge, finding the small opportunities to move to the next current. The last kind of pilot goes up, catches a wind current and goes along with it. Realizing after a long while that it’s not the direction they want to go they proceed to drop a bag of heavy material out of the balloon to lighten the weight and move to another wind current. To make an emergency change. ”
I was struck by this analogy and I really like the perspective it has on life for a few reasons. The first is that it highlights the fact that there is no definite correct way to approach life. By this I mean, it shows that each piloting technique ends with the balloon ultimately reaching a destination where the pilot wants to go. No matter if that was the destination from the very beginning and only involved one straight-forward path, if it involved changing paths many times, or even if it involved completely abandoning the path you were taking in favour of another. It all ends the same. It works with the notion that the universe adjusts to accommodate our decisions. When we don’t listen to our intuition, the universe works around this and continues the path despite the detour. Things always have a way of working to teach us what needs to be learned and we don’t have to learn these lessons by picking one path and sticking to it.
In fact, according to LinkedIn Business people nowadays change jobs, on average, 4 times before the age of 52 for the purpose of career advancement. This is a stark change from the normal path of older generations who picked a career and stuck with it until retirement. My own grandfather dedicated over 40 years to the same company, while my sister’s longest single job was just 6 years. This doesn’t by any means show that our generation is less reliable or motivated workers… we simply have another approach to life.
Another example is beliefs and religion. With globalization, we can now learn about every religion under the sun if we wish! But this means that we also discover conflicting beliefs and information which makes sense in one religion but means nothing in another. The effect of this is that (mainly in Western society) we now have less of a defined religious path. Religion is much more personal nowadays and less communal. We can have many religious beliefs in one tiny village and many people change religion a number of times to find the one to which they feel connected. This study shows that in people 65 or older, a significant amount had changed religion or lost/gained religion over the course of their life—many in response to finding themselves and their happiness.
So changing courses in life, whether it’s career, religion, love, location, etc, is perfectly normal and rarely leads to a less meaningful path. In the same way, sticking to one path that you immediately know is your right path, can also be a wonderful way to go through life. But like the analogy, there are 3 kinds of pilots ( people in general) and 3 distinct ways to approach life… But they all reach a favorable destination. Finding the path that is right for you is not something you can put a date on. However, some techniques have helped me to come closer to finding mine ( I am, however, still searching).
- Learn to listen to your intuition: This is both difficult and the most rewarding lesson I have learned from myself. This involves becoming aware of any thoughts that come up in immediate response to stimuli. E.g if you’re driving and see a sign for a village you’ve never heard of, and you get a huge feeling that you should visit it. Listening is asking yourself why you felt that and trusting that there is a reason. When you listen, guidance becomes stronger.
- Stop copying others: We’ve all done it. The neighbor chooses to move location, a friend switches jobs, a co-worker gets remarried… suddenly life for them seems to fall exactly into place. But do not be tempted to copy what they did to get there. It is almost guaranteed not to work for you. Because someone else’s life path is not yours.
Hot air balloons may be far removed from your environment and lifestyle. But the metaphor still applies. You have control of how you move through life and which route you follow and the paths of others do not affect your own. You are your own pilot. Everyone else has a slightly different flight style, but they all land in the perfect location.
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Photo: Cesar Abner – Unsplash; Ernest Brillo – Unsplash; Mathieu Stern – Unsplash.