Two roads diverged

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood*

Six months ago, almost to the day, I was ushered into a cramped office and told that my career had just come to a screeching halt. Three of us sat in that small and cluttered space, and two sets of eyes fixed on me, waiting for me to say something. I remember looking out of the window, feeling helpless, with no way of knowing what I would do next.

Yesterday, I was brought into another office. Its ceiling, 20 feet above me, was decorated with a mural, underscored by a line of intricate wood moldings that encircled the office. The rest of the office was just as spacious – in fact, it was a suite of at least six rooms. And again, two sets of eyes were on me, wondering what I would say.

I said yes.

Not that very moment. There would still be a wait of a few hours before the formal offer was made: Be a writer for the state House of Representatives’ Democratic Caucus. Work with the team to restore help and hope to the people in the state who are hurting. Be part of the fight. Do something to bring social justice to our state. And even then, I didn’t say yes right away.

Because a few days before that, I’d received another offer. This one was entirely different, but equally compelling. This was an offer to be a therapist at a community mental health office, helping people who show up in crisis. This was exactly the kind of work I’d been looking for since graduating with a master’s degree in counseling seven months ago. But they could only take me on as a part-time relief person, with no guarantee of even one hour a week. Nevertheless, it would be a foot-in-the-door to the mental health field.

To help people one-on-one or to help them potentially millions at a time. This was a decision I grappled with for more than a week. I slept little, and when I did sleep, I had nightmares and weird dreams. My mind changed this way, then that, and then back again. I sought omens and portents everywhere. I gleaned every scrap of information I could find on either job and interrogated all my friends and family on the options. The more I knew, the more I discussed and debated, the more I thought, the harder it all became.

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

How could I turn down the political job? What writer wouldn’t kill to have an opportunity like that open up? To be that close to the action in a major election year? To see how democracy actually works? To do my part to influence things for the better? How much had I spoken out in recent months about the bad turns this nation has taken, and the wrong steps my state has made? And here was a chance like no other to do more than just talk about it.

But how could I turn down the mental health job, either? Didn’t I just finish a three- five-year graduate school program to do exactly this? And hadn’t I been volunteering at a crisis center for going on three years now? This was precisely the work I wanted, and I truly liked the potential supervisor who interviewed me. Friends who work there confirmed this was a great place to work, and this part-time job was the first step down the road to landing full-time work there.

Many people told me in the past week that it would be impossible to make a wrong decision because both options were so good. I know what they meant. Either route had enough good points to justify a “yes” answer. Either route could take me from where I am now to places I very much want to be. So either direction held a lot of promise.

But for the life of me, I couldn’t see it that way. It agonized me to think of giving up a chance to do good on such a grand scale and have such a glamorous job in the state capitol. And it agonized me to think of giving up a chance to do crisis work, which is rewarding in an entirely different way. Either choice meant that I would have to give up a lot.

And then, the fear.

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 didn’t want to make my decision based on fear, but there was fear enough to go around. On the one hand, I feared not being able to keep my house warm in the winter and being able to pay the basic bills. On the other hand, I feared getting too far away from the mental health, rendering my education a waste.

It was crazy. After six months of feeling lost, of being scared all the time, of being angry and desperate, all of a sudden I had two equally valid offers. And instead of making me happy, it was making me miserable.

Never in my life have I struggled so much with a decision. All the other dilemmas I’d faced before were resolved with a sudden flash of insight or a deep-seated hunch, or options were whittled down until only one good choice remained. That wasn’t happening this time around. I’d heard once that the proliferations of options in our society made people less happy. I never really felt that until now.

So when it came down to it, how did I make the decision? I wish I knew how to sum it up.

A part of it came in the form of gentle cajoling on the part of my parents. God love them, they stayed neutral as long as they could. They both told me they had their opinions, but both were careful not to share them with me, so that I could make the decision on my own. That is, until firm offers from both employers were in hand with a decision due in 12 hours and I was still dithering. Then they let me know.

Another part of it came this morning, when I called the man who had interviewed me at community mental health. I spoke honestly, told him about the full-time offer, and asked if I was shooting myself in the foot by saying no. He assured me that he understood, and should circumstances change, I was more than welcome to call him up and ask about openings again. So the one fear was unfounded, as real as I may have felt it to be.

That made it easier. But it still wasn’t easy.

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.

In the end, I’ll never know what the better decision was. I can’t, because those roads diverged and way leads on to way, and even if I do find my way back to that same decision point there will be different leaves covering that road. And all the stalling for time in the world wouldn’t have given me a better idea of which way to go.

I do know that years from now, no matter what happens, I will be looking back on this day and thinking, “Remember that time when I had a chance to go into mental health and a chance to work in politics? What kind of crazy luck was it to be hit with both those chances at the same time?”

And then I’ll lean back and smile to myself with satisfaction, happy in the knowledge afforded by hindsight that somehow, against all the odds, everything that happened, happened — exactly as it was meant to be.

*  “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost


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