For the last few months, I’ve been dealing with some really big questions: “what is my current job?”, “what are the positive elements of my job?”, “what does my current job lack?”, “am I content with generalized discontentment?”, “what is my dream job, and does such a thing even exist?”, “can the two notions of occupation ever coexist, combined as one role?” Heavy stuff, I know.

Fresh off the road of our cross-country trip, I collected my pure thoughts and reflections about the future in A Life Unlived—the vacation and journey, as a whole, served as the slow-trickle impetus for change in my professional life.

This is real, honest, and legit The Road Less Traveled type of stuff, that would have Robert Frost scratching his head too. So I figured that another look at one of my favorite American poems—an anthem for personal freedom and waving the flag of a choice-properly-chosen—was in proper order.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

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.

The most misinterpreted poem in America

Know this: if you are claiming this poem as your personal mantra for choosing the Road Less Traveled, you’ve got it all wrong. After a thirty-year hiatus from my high school poetry appreciation days, it seems that I’ve got Frost’s intention backwards and all kerfuffle-like—I’m also not the only person who hasn’t properly sorted one road from another. We’ve all been duped.

Stanza One: one traveler, two roads. Traveler (without a specific destination in mind) looks at road one, until he can’t see any further beyond the bend and undergrowth.

Stanza Two: traveler takes the opposite road (sans undergrowth), when he identifies that either road would do—neither were better than the other. There is no specific preference here.

Stanza Three: traveler saves the first path with undergrowth for another day, but sincerely doubts that he’ll ever get a chance to explore it. Traveler is content with his choice, considering neither path was more desirable than the other. Neither of the roads are less travelled by.

Stanza Four: traveler recalls his previous choice (probably from decades earlier) with regret. He remembers his own story incorrectly. He actually believes that the road he inevitably chose was the most desirable path at the moment of his decision. If you go back and read his account, he didn’t actually have a preference when originally decided. Despite his enthusiasm for the awesome choice that he made, his memory is inaccurate.

Too bad, so sad

Sorry. You’ve been wrong all of these years. And so have I. Additionally, I found interest in my Google research that the poem title is often incorrectly referenced. It seems that many people believe the name of the poem is The Road Less Traveled, perhaps you thought the same.

Unfortunately, the poem (despite its misinterpretation) is not recommending that when you arrive at a fork in the road, the best advice is to choose the path least traveled. Rather the perspective of the poem is how the road (whichever you selected at a past point in time) looks to you now (a future point in time). Mind-trip, I know.

I suppose that I will have to work on my occupational “what-if” list on my own, without Frost’s help—you tricky bumm. Maybe I’ll create a spreadsheet with columns of Pros and Cons, cross-referenced, and analyzed? Yeah, that’s exactly what I’ll do.