Poem: The Road Less Travelled
I took the road less travelled by,
And I don’t know where it will lead.
All I can do is take one more step,
And trust I’ll receive what I need.
This road is packed with twists and turns,
And sometimes the path looks bleak.
All I can do is summon my strength,
And pray I’ll find what I seek.
This road is filled with haunting voices,
Their names are doubt and fear.
All I can do is seek the song of hope,
And hold it closer to my ear.
This road is plagued by naysayers,
Their cold, bitter words cut deep.
All I can do is take refuge in my heart,
And let its warmth soothe me to sleep.
This road is often a lonely one,
Sometimes it’s just me and Death.
All I can do is close my eyes,
And search for peace within myself.
This road is steep and treacherous,
And sometimes I stumble and fall.
All I can do is grit my teeth,
And get up, keep giving my all.
This road is long and tiresome,
And sometimes I want to give up.
All I can do is slow my pace,
And refuse to let myself stop.
This road strips me of my will,
At night you can hear my cries.
All I can do is dry my tears,
And with the sun, again, I rise.
Because yes, this road is testing,
But I would walk it again each time.
For the wisdom of the mountain lies not in the peak,
But in the journey that is the climb.
I have learned that tears can heal our wounds,
If we conquer our ego and pride.
And that banishing demons through watery streaks,
Takes more strength than it does to hide.
I have learned to slow without stopping,
Without fear of falling behind.
Now I rest and replenish my spirit.
And then resume with a clear mind.
I have learned that we all stumble,
That there is no shame in feeling pain.
And that falling is not failure in any form,
If we learn and get up again.
I have learned to find peace in solitude,
To embrace the silence and be.
Yet always expressing gratitude and love,
For all who will walk beside me.
I have learned the hurt and anger,
That disapproval and judgement strike.
Knowing this, I treat with compassion,
Naysayers and loved ones alike.
I have learned to forbid the past and future,
From creating doubt in the road I took.
For true beauty lies between each twist and turn,
When I’m present enough to look.
I have learned how blessed I am,
To be walking a path of my own choice.
I vow to honour this with each breath I take,
And to inspire others with my voice.
So yes, I took the road less travelled by.
I still don’t know where it leads.
All I can do is take one more step –
I know I’ll receive what I need.
Thank you for taking the time to read this poem. I hope that you’ve enjoyed it and (hopefully) taken something away from it.
As a rule, I always like to share the backstory behind the poem and then go on to explain what each stanza means to me personally. Please don’t feel obliged to read it!
The beauty of poetry is that we can each interpret it in a unique way that relates to us at this moment in time, and that is arguably far more insightful and valuable for you than what the poet was thinking.
But here's my story.
In June 2016, I left my job as a management consultant to chase a dream. This dream was born in January 2014 as I emerged from a personal low. I won’t go into the details of how, but in short, I realised that nothing fulfilled me more than the idea of helping others to become the best version of themselves...
But I wasn’t courageous enough to pursue this dream from the outset.
I took my Cambridge degree and got a prestigious job in the city – taking the well-worn road, as it were…
…and then quitting 4 months later, having realised that the experience of working in the city was exactly what I had needed to boost my confidence and realise that now was the time to begin working on turning my dream into reality.
My first year as an ‘entrepreneur’ was interesting.
I didn’t underestimate the difficulty of it, but I also didn’t imagine the sheer number of ways in which it would challenge me. I came into it with self-awareness, a 3-year business plan and an understanding of how I functioned optimally. I have never bought into hustle culture. I believe in balance. I work with ruthless efficiency, and then I rest. The cycle repeats itself. In the past, this has allowed me to achieve good results without burning out…
…except now, there’s no exam to prepare for. No steady paycheck. No boundaries, apart from the ones you decide to set. No one to copy – no two businesses are the same, no two entrepreneurs are the same.
And without feedback as a guide, it’s hard to gauge when you’re on the right path. It’s difficult to be patient when you don’t see results immediately. It’s frustrating to pour your heart and soul into something that never lifts off the ground. It’s infuriating when people you trust don’t deliver on their promises.
For a results-driven person like me, this entire journey has been humbling, to say the least.
I wrote this poem on 10th March 2017, one month after I self-published my first book (8 Principles of Exam Domination, for those interested) and one week after I was informed that a workshop I’d created to run in a school (based on my book) was going to be cancelled due to time constraints.
I’d invested a lot of time and energy into the book and workshops. The workshops were meant to be an integral piece in the puzzle of turning my venture from a ‘passion-project’ into a ‘financially viable business’. And now the first one wasn’t even going to happen…
It was all a bit too much. I was tired from months of intense work. My protective dams succumbed to exhaustion, and a tsunami of anxiety overwhelmed me. I was powerless to do anything other than to let it carry me under.
And when I regained a semblance of control, I did what I always do.
I went for a walk.
I walked for an hour and a half on a cold Friday night, listening to one song for the entire journey. A smooth, hauntingly beautiful jazz/hip-hop fusion called ‘South Side‘, created by producer and saxophonist Uyama Hiroto with lyrics by the incredibly talented Shing02.
The song itself is about surfing, which for me brings back memories of peace and tranquillity - but only after conquering adversity in the form of brutal waves and being continuously humbled by the ocean. Couple that with the mesmerising melody of the song, and I found myself walking as if in a dream-like trance.
A surfing analogy came to mind. The past few months, I’d been riding gigantic waves to shore, one after the other. It was a perpetual high, intense but immensely rewarding, exhilarating but exhausting. And when I reached shore, I was tired. Very tired. Still, I swam back out into the ocean for the next wave to catch. I had to keep moving. Had to build on my momentum.
But swimming out takes energy, and the waves felt bigger than ever. I was being pummelled and buffeted in all directions. I didn’t know whether I should keep going, or to swim back to shore. I felt trapped and exhausted.
And when I asked myself why I felt this way, the waves disappeared, and all I could see was an image of me renouncing a smooth, well-trodden path in favour of a wild, untamed road, dense with fog and reeking with the aroma of the unknown.
The road less taken.
And then I went home, lay on my bed, let ‘South Side’ play for 2 hours, and wrote this poem.
There are 17 stanzas in the poem, written in a mirrored 8-1-8 structure. The first 8 stanzas describe the challenges I’ve faced. Then there’s a single “bridge” stanza (Stanza 9), which leads into the 8 lessons I’ve learned from each of the 8 challenges.
Each of those stanzas ‘mirrors’ the stanza on the opposite side of the ‘bridge’ i.e. Stanza 10 is the lesson from Stanza 8, 11 from 7, 12 from 6, 13 from 5, 14 from 4, 15/16 from 3/2 (there’s a little overlap), and 17 from 1.
I constructed the poem in stanza order. I wrote 1-8 first, then 9, then 10-17. I didn’t know how the poem was going to unfold when I started writing it. It started off as pure catharsis, as I felt the need to release the adversities I was facing from my mind and transform them into tangible form.
But by the time I finished Stanza 8, I decided that I wanted to end on a positive note reinforcing my commitment to my path, which was Stanza 9. And then I thought that it would be nice to write an accompanying stanza for each of the 8 adversities outlining what each was teaching me. Again, this was fully for my personal benefit – I wanted to reinforce in my mind that the challenges I was facing were necessary for my growth.
Looking at each stanza:
S1: I recognise that the source of my challenges is my decision to have taken the less-trodden path. I express my faith that I’ll ‘receive what I need’ as long as I ‘take one more step’, which is an interpretation of my favourite Farsi saying, “az man harekat, az Khoda barekat”. This loosely translates as “from me, motion; from God, His bounty” i.e. trust that the right path will always find you as long as you’re proactively making moves towards your goals.
S2: The road is anything but straight! Despite the twists and turns that I find incredibly disheartening, I have to summon my strength and keep hoping that I’ll find what I seek on this path.
S3: I’m not immune to the voices of doubt and fear. They tell me that I can’t do it, that I’ll fail, that this won’t ever amount to anything, that I’ll have to give up and get a normal job. In times like this, I seek out the voice of hope. It tells me to keep moving, to keep dreaming, and to keep fighting my Good Fight.
S4: People’s words hurt. Whether it’s an online ‘troll’ I’ve never met telling me I’m wasting my time or mocking how I look, or a friend making a snide throwaway comment intended as a ‘joke’, it still lingers. I forget the 20 positive messages I’m getting and focus on the 1 negative thing. I don’t take hate as well as an entrepreneur ‘should’. I don’t like disapproval. I don’t like to disappoint others. My skin is thin, but my heart is strong. It protects me from venomous words and gives me the strength to keep going.
S5: Solo ventures are tough. It’s often recommended to start-up a company with two people as opposed to one. As well as being able to bounce ideas between each other and offer different perspectives, they can lift each other up when one is feeling low. I don’t have that, and the nature of my business is also different to those of other entrepreneurs I know. The fact that no one can relate to the pressures of what I’m doing can make the journey feel lonely. But Death is my favourite companion – it reminds me to make the most of every moment I have, inspiring me to search for the peace and blissful stillness that lies within myself.
S6: We all stumble and fall. But it is how we get back up that defines us. It can be tempting to stay down. But I grit my teeth and get up anyway. There will be no room for regrets on this path.
S7: Fatigue overwhelms me sometimes. I can hear doubt telling me to just give up. I permit myself to slow down and recuperate, but I refuse to stop.
S8: It’s an emotionally-draining journey. The highs are astronomical, the lows are soul-shattering. I cry sometimes. And when the tears stop flowing, I dry my cheeks and get ready to rise again.
S9: The bridge. I knew this road was going to be tough. There are no footprints for me to put my feet into. There is no end, no final destination – as much as I want there to be! It’s a journey. I remind myself to embrace the climb itself, not just the vision of standing atop a peak. The amount of time we spend on a peak compared to how much we climb is negligible. I don’t want to live for fleeting moments and hollow accomplishments. I want to live for EACH moment – that itself is the ultimate accomplishment!
S10 (Reference to S8): I have learned that suppressing my ego and pride and allowing myself to cry is immensely healing and comforting. Emotional suppression isn’t strength. We become like pressure cookers, locking our emotions inside until we reach our threshold and uncontrollably explode, causing harm to those around us. I’ve learned that it takes more strength to manage our emotions, to be able to confront our demons at an appropriate time and to permit ourselves to release them – through tear ducts if necessary.
S11 (Reference to S7): Part of the reason I’ve always feared slowing down was that I was ‘falling behind’ in the ‘race’. I’ve learned the absurdity of this in the last few years. There’s one surety in life – we’re all going to reach the finish line anyway! Ironically, most people I know are in no rush to get there. I’ve learned that it’s about enjoying the run at my own pace. Finding the balance between a gentle walk, a steady jog, and all-out sprinting. I permit myself to slow down when needed to replenish my energy and strengthen my resolve, but stopping to quit the race isn’t an option I permit myself to entertain.
S12 (Reference to S6): To me, failure is not an outcome – it’s my response to an outcome. I fall. I learn from it. I get up and keep going. There is no failure provided that I learn and get back up.
S13 (Reference to S5): Being ‘alone’ on this journey has been challenging, but it has enabled me to become more comfortable with solitude. More than anything though, it makes me appreciate the support I do have. My mother, father and sister. My family. My close friends. I express my gratitude and love for them whenever I can in whatever sincere way I can think of. Life’s too damn short and fleeting not to express these things.
S14 (Reference to S4): As I mentioned, ‘thick skin’ is not something I was born with. Nor is it something I wish to obtain. I like my thin skin. It lets me feel. Sometimes it’s intense, sometimes it’s painful – but it always leads to insights. I know how much words can hurt. There’s rarely any context as to why someone has decided to say something hurtful. There’s no explanation for it, no sense of closure or understanding. I’ve decided that the best response is compassion regardless. I can’t control someone else’s behaviour, but I can control my own. There’s enough pain in the world. I make a choice not to contribute to it.
S15 (Reference to S2/3): The twists and turns on my path aren’t the problem; my attitude towards them is. Too often, they’re catalysts that trigger doubt regarding the path I took, or obstacles stopping me from attaining my future goals. They keep my mind either stuck in the past or anxious about the future. By learning to be present and mindful of the moment at hand, I allow myself to enjoy the journey. It’s unbelievable how many beautiful things we miss when we’re stuck living in illusions of the past or visions of the future. Stay present.
S16 (Reference to S2/3): It’s my choice to walk this path, and I’m truly grateful for it. Not everyone will take the opportunity to chase their dreams – but there are many who don’t even have that opportunity. No matter the doubt and fear, the twists and turns, I will honour the path I’ve taken. To me, that means liberating others to shine and inspiring them to search for their own path by continuing to embody the values I stand for, the words that I speak, and the path that I walk.
S17 (Reference to S1): A repetition of the first stanza, with the change from “trusting” to “knowing” that I’ll receive what I need signifying my understanding of and appreciation for the journey I’m taking.
That’s it! I hope the journey into this poem has been interesting and insightful for you. I’d be grateful for any feedback, criticisms or comments you can share with me. Drop me a message here, or get in touch via Instagram, Facebook or my website.
Good luck walking your own path.
Keep growing. Keep striving. Keep shining.
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.