Why You Don't Have To Be Radical, Just A Little Different

The myth of blazing your own path

  • Justin Zoradi
Why You Don't Have To Be Radical, Just A Little Different

Invisible Trails - by James A. Pearson

Follow the invisible paths
Walk upon the high places
The sides of mountains
The edges of planters along the road
And when the trail gets too narrow to walk
Keep your knees bent
And your feet light
And your eyes on what calls you
And dance along its dangers

I love this poem.

I love it because it speaks to a unique trend I’ve noticed for those of us looking for meaning in our lives and work. If you’ve ever read a self-help book or listened to a motivational speaker there is a lot of talk about how you should “blaze a new path” or “rewrite the rules” in your quest for significance.

They cite famous men like Steve Jobs (Apple), Richard Branson (Virgin), or Jeff Bezos (Amazon) as people who burned down the old ways of thinking and built an entirely new highway amidst the rubble of the old.

I’m inspired by those stories, but the reality is, very few of us are the burn and build types. And that’s a good thing. People often assume that in order to be successful they have to begin by charting a brand new territory - Something a very small percentage of the population will ever really do.

I believe much of this thinking is what paralyzes everyday people, keeping them complacent, discontent, and stuck in lives and careers they don’t love. You aren't the next Steve Jobs, so why try at all?

Instead, our focus shouldn't always be to blaze a new path, but to run along the edges of the ones that already exist.

It’s not enough to be complacent, cruising down the middle of a well-worn path. The grooves are deep, the rocks swept aside. Instead, aspire to tread on the fringes of your industry, racing along its edges, your arms stretched out awkwardly for balance.

Here’s the truth:

You don’t have to be radical, just a little different. (Tweet this)

I’ll say that again. You don’t have to be radical, just a little different.

What will happen will surprise you.

By being a little different, over time, you’ll begin to carve out a space for yourself. You started by running on the edges of the trails, but soon the path will narrow. The weeds may brush your ankles as you tromp through. But you’ll be ready for it.

The practice of finding your balance on the edges prepares us for hacking through the brush of a brand new trail.

All the while, you’ll “keep your knees bent/ and your feet light/ and dance along its dangers.“

Will you do something for me?

In the comment section below, tell me how you are on the fringe of a trail? How are you dancing along the planter instead of the middle of the road? You'll see my comment below.

If you aren’t there yet, what can you do to get there? What in your work can be done a tiny bit differently and how can you be the person to do it?

- JZ

Learn more about writer & poet James A. Pearson
Photo Credit: Martin Lieberman, Creative Commons

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Comments (31)

  • Justin Zoradi

    Justin Zoradi

    26 June 2013 at 06:52 |
    I work everyday to try and be on the fringes of my industry.

    In 2008 I started an organization that provides education for students in Africa. A lot of people do something similar; there are literally thousands of education-based orgs in Africa. What made us stand out? We decided to narrow our focus to only serving college students and our graduates reinvest in the tuition of a new student behind them. It’s not radical, but it’s a little different.
  • Deanna Cochran

    Deanna Cochran

    26 June 2013 at 12:19 |
    A friend turned me on to your encouraging words and I want you to know I really enjoy reading your articles.

    I think about people making a difference in whatever work they are doing by reaching out to the people and affecting the people within their sphere, no matter how small. I think about a friend of mine, whose father was a janitor in an elementary school. He went in an hour early each day, brought donuts and made coffee and prayed with whoever came by. He truly made a difference in so many people's lives.

    Thank you again for your encouraging words!!
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      26 June 2013 at 19:24 |
      Thanks so much for reading Deanna! I love the story of the janitor. Exactly what I was talking about. Very cool.
  • Jessica Lyszyk

    Jessica Lyszyk

    26 June 2013 at 12:22 |
    I'm a middle school English teacher. There are TONS of us out in the world. I try to be different, though, by the content we study - we focus on world issues and the politics of our nation. I also strive to let my kids know that I care about them. I'm hopeful that in these ways, I'm molding the next generation to be more open-minded, compassionate, and justice-oriented.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      26 June 2013 at 19:25 |
      Love it Jessica. You're totally on the edges of the path. Very very cool. Keep it going. You're definitely molding the next generation.
  • Michael Hadley

    Michael Hadley

    26 June 2013 at 12:30 |
    I graduated college in may and have been looking for a jo with no luck so far. It takes a lot of courage to run the edges, courage which if I'm really honest, I don't have. But I have aspirations. And when the time comes I want to run the edges. For now, I'm just waiting to see which trail reveals itself to me.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      26 June 2013 at 19:25 |
      Good thoughts Michael. Keep it up. You'll be ok and I'm confident you'll find something soon enough.
  • Andrew Inge

    Andrew Inge

    26 June 2013 at 12:50 |
    I am in a profession where there are two extremes that can be very successful: one is to be highly efficient and appeal to the largest number of people possible, and the other is to focus on the high end, serving the most affluent in society, but low in volume. I don't have the facilities or the desire to focus on volume, yet I don't have very many affluent "customers" and don't really want to go exclusively that way either even if I could. Therefore, I am more or less forced to aim at the middle, which I am told is a very dangerous place to be. By trying to succeed in the middle I am actually running along the edge.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      26 June 2013 at 19:26 |
      That's good stuff Andrew. Every circumstance is a bit different for sure. I like this - "By trying to succeed in the middle I am actually running along the edge."
  • Justin Dernison

    Justin Dernison

    26 June 2013 at 12:59 |
    Justin you know me and the industry I work in. The company I work for tends to do things a little different than similar companies (check out our youtube feed for examples) in our field and I can speak to some of that but I don't believe it's at the core of what you are asking here. How do I do things a little differently... I actually had to pause for a bit and think about that. At work I push boundaries that others are unwilling to, I ask tough questions when, I fight for what I believe is right and accept when I'm found to be wrong, I examine both sides of the coin and take a look at the edges of them too. While this may not make me different from everyone I work with, and hope that it does not, it does leave some separation. As a leader my goal is to have others catch up and push me to expand the edge of our paths. At home, well just thinking about it makes me smile. At home, I work to do the little things that make a difference. I just read Ralph Waldo Emerson to my three month old last night. I wrote am email to my wife telling her how much she means to me as well. I read your blog :) and others. I listen to podcasts that I believe will me a better person and thus this a better world.

    A more concise answer: I am working to be the same person at work, at church, at school, at the grocery store, wherever I am as I am at home. Not radical but a little different.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      26 June 2013 at 19:27 |
      I dig it man. You got it. Not radical, just a little different.
  • Brian Hilst

    Brian Hilst

    26 June 2013 at 16:47 |
    I am in the midst of blazing a trail or at least taking the road less traveled by creating Purposeful Software, a software company focused on serving the needs of non-profit and humanitarian organizations. After working in the commercial software industry for many years, I want to apply my skills to organizations that are trying to make the world a better place for others. I don't know where this will lead and am learning the way as I go, but I know that as long as God is the lamp unto my feet, I am headed in the right direction.

    I thank you for your inspiring blog and path you have taken. In fact you've just inspired me to start a blog myself! Blessings to you and the trail ahead!
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      26 June 2013 at 19:32 |
      What a great example Brian. Exactly what I'm talking about. You're on the edge of the software industry - this is awesome to see. Thanks for reading man, good luck on the blogging!
  • Larry J Rutledge

    Larry J Rutledge

    26 June 2013 at 16:59 |
    While reading this it made me think of young kids. I always love watching families when I'm out and about, because the adults primarily stick to the approved paths to get from place to place, they don't move too quickly, they watch for their place among each other, etc. But the kids are never content with any of these choices. They run from place to place, they walk on planter boxes and bench seats. They avoid cracks in the path. They try to climb every thing that has a hand/foot hold within their reach. They don't worry about who might be in the path ahead of them, they go through or around them.

    These kids have not done anything radical. They are still going to the same place the adults are going. The difference is they do not allow someone else to define how they accomplish the task. They are not trying to find another task, just going about it in the way which brings them the most pleasure.

    I realize this is where I have gotten stuck. I have focused so much on trying to find the clever, unique, niche "thing" that no one else is doing, nor thought of, and instead I find that year after year I end up doing nothing.

    So now I must challenge myself to look for the most pleasing way to accomplish what God is calling me too ... I must stop looking for the approved path to constrain myself with, and instead find the planter box on the edge of the path and see where it leads!
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      26 June 2013 at 19:33 |
      Great Larry. Stay on it. You don't need to create the huge niche right now. Just get on the path and move to the edges. Very cool.
  • Shyla Ruiz-Esparza

    Shyla Ruiz-Esparza

    26 June 2013 at 17:00 |
    At first glance, I realize that the humble role of being a Mom does not sound so off the beaten path or dancing on the fringes. However, my daily goals to strive for simplicity and frugality, homeschool my children in education and character, eat clean and close to home, and continual self-examination in light of the charge to do all things as unto Christ has led me to feel like a woman quite on the outskirts of the norm. My marriage survived and was rebuilt after three years of separation - this year we will be celebrating our 28th anniversary. We've lived on one income and have made many financial decisions based upon the practical realities of our bank account, all of which have called for sacrifice in some area(s.) We've graduated our three sons, and have another two or three years before the joy of doing the same with our two daughters. We adopted our girls as older children (6 and 8 at the time) and embarked on an entirely unexplored path of healing and restoration with them. We are a family that talks, shares, and strives - together, yet as unique individuals. I'm not so sure that we're all that different from many others, but that should never be why we live as we do, should it? Each day is a gift, whether you're Steve Jobs or me.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      26 June 2013 at 19:34 |
      Wow Shyla! What a story. You're definitely on the fringes here, I love it. What an impressive life you've lived. Thanks for sharing.
  • Marc


    26 June 2013 at 17:49 |
    On the fringe? Too liberal for my conservative friends. To conservative for my liberal friends. Trying to figure out how intentional living fits into a paradigm of grace.

    Thanks for the encouraging words!
  • Justin Zoradi

    Justin Zoradi

    26 June 2013 at 19:35 |
    The best place to be Marc! Thanks for reading.
  • Gary Darnell

    Gary Darnell

    26 June 2013 at 19:42 |
    I have a retirement job at Big Peach Running Co. two days a week. It is a fun place with great people. They are allowing me to manage the store's Facebook page and I am learning how to connect, inspire and reach new and seasoned runners. I am new to the Tech. Revolution but I run along the edge of what others are doing on social media like Michael Hyatt, Donald Miller and Justin Zoradi. Thanks for the help.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      29 June 2013 at 05:17 |
      I like this Gary. Keep it up. I'm honored to be among a list of those guys too.
  • Gloria K

    Gloria K

    27 June 2013 at 05:59 |
    I work in Public Relations in a Ugandan Institution. I have been there for less than two years and in that time I tried to figure out what could make us stand out.

    So I do two things. One, I do my best to keep in my mind that my work is also ministry, that above all, I serve Jesus. Two, I try to actually relate to the public. That simply means I listen as a person talks, I care and I act. Not Radical, but different.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      29 June 2013 at 05:17 |
      Well said Gloria. Christ above all and relating to the public well. Good stuff.
  • Bonnie Pendred Licata

    Bonnie Pendred Licata

    27 June 2013 at 16:10 |
    Wo'iyopastake is the Lakota word for encouragement.

    We have a ministry to encourage, support, strengthen and help the Lakota pastors & Christian leaders on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Everything we do is to help them advance the good work they already have going. Our agenda is their agenda that is already in the works. Many organizations send clothing and other needful items. We sometimes do that, but when we do it is for them to distribute as it advances their own ministries there. There are many church & secular organizations that help these poorest of the poor in the USA, but to my knowledge we are the only ones who have the primary focus of encouraging the pastors in the good work they are already doing.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      29 June 2013 at 05:18 |
      Very cool. Thanks for reading Bonnie!
  • John Weirick

    John Weirick

    28 June 2013 at 03:40 |
    Great thoughts, Justin!

    I'm writing a memoir that's just a little different. People ask my age and posit that a person under 30 isn't old enough to write a memoir - I haven't lived enough, they say - but I'm doing it anyway.

    We each have stories to share, and I want to share mine to inspire people to live with purpose and passion.

    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      29 June 2013 at 05:18 |
      Good stuff man. I hope the writing is going well. Keep up the blogging too, that's gonna build the foundation you'll need for promoting the book.
  • Dave Arnold

    Dave Arnold

    29 June 2013 at 02:27 |
    Love this post, Justin! I try everyday to to tackle one thing that will help me live on the edges. I take one thing and focus on that, rather than trying to bite off too much, which just gets me overwhelmed. It's helped a lot. So I (a) will pitch my book to a radio station one day; (b) write something to help people, etc. it's easy to get sidetracked and think I'll not doing much (or worse, feeling overwhelmed by how much I need to do). So, I take one thing at a time. It helps (most of the time :).
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      29 June 2013 at 05:19 |
      Awesome Dave. I love the one unique thing a day idea. May borrow that.
  • Jeri Kemmer

    Jeri Kemmer

    01 July 2013 at 12:20 |
    Awesome blog, Justin. It reminds me of a term I learned a couple years ago - "immovate" which equals imitate + innovate. Imitate what is already happening in your field that works and then innovate to make it better, different, your own.

    My husband and I are living on the fringes and moving out into the brush with the non-profit we founded 18 months ago - Strong Harvest International. We lived and worked in Tanzania for a number of years and then came back to the States, quickly learning that the 9-5 jobs we'd landed were not going to provide the significance of life and work that we craved.

    The mission of Strong Harvest is to empower families in the developing world to meet their needs for nutritious food, clean water and economic opportunities right in their own backyards by cultivating and using the Moringa tree. It's easy, inexpensive, accessible to everyone living in the tropics and it's amazingly effective.

    When we were first considering starting Strong Harvest, we called and talked to you and I often remember what you said, "You've got to put the wings on the plane while you're going down the runway!" And that's what we've been doing - the work has been hard, hard, hard, but the blessings have been amazing!

    Thanks for the great example that you set!
  • Arlen Miller

    Arlen Miller

    02 September 2013 at 20:13 |
    Hmm. The vision in my bosom is bigger than me. Would that count as treading along the edge? I can't fathom the potential for my blog. I've experienced success in my niche in the past then I stopped. I had gotten over 18,000 visitors in six months then I lost heart. Duh. Yeah, I know.

    But now... just the dare of putting my art and my content out there and saying, 'This is my art.' It may seem elementary, but for me it's courageous stuff. I guess I've seen my own identity too closely tied to my art and feared feeling rejected if the art was rejected. I'm telling myself to stop it. To get over it. I'm moving on. Delighted. Loving it.

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