I followed the yellow brick road. It was lined with rite-of-passage road markers. I lost my first tooth. I sat in the front seat of a car. I started high school. I had my first kiss. I moved out of the freshman dorm. All these stops led me to the Emerald City.
In the Emerald City, I was another scarecrow in search of knowledge. I graduated college in four years. I was given a piece of paper to prove that I had a brain and ushered across the stage.
I was then led out back. They opened a door and all I could see, in every direction, were yellow bricks. There was no road, but a grand patio that covered the Earth. From my position, I saw the dirt of previous footprints lead off on different paths, but nothing concrete. I knew I would find no more road markers, but also had no path to stray from.
I picked a few sets of footprints going in one direction and I begin to walk. I quickly come across enclaves of people all working by pushing buttons and stopped to talk to them. Some people told me they had stopped at this first group because they wanted the security; others had the pressure of obligations. Few were happy with the decision to stay and they talked longingly about moving onward, someday…
I continued on and found another group that seemed oblivious to my presence in the middle of their grand party. They were distracting themselves with light and music and drink and memory lapses.
I set out again, walking for a while with a girl searching for her big break. We quickly noticed objects thrown at us as we walked. She said that the objects were clues to people’s dreams. There were lots of paintbrushes, guitars and cameras. She pointed out some larger items—an empty family photo album and a Superman cape. We came across a path full of loose-leaf pages from old scripts, and she left me to pursue that path. I continued toward the horizon.
Every chance I could, I talked to people I came across in this yellow brick desert. I started to understand some themes.
A lot of people were trying to follow specific paths. They stumbled across the inklings of a famous person they recognized—a musician or an entrepreneur—and they would begin to follow that path. Yet each time, they found the road broken or blocked.
One guy who was lying on the side of the road, looked up at me in disbelief when I asked him why all his paths were broken. Finally, he said, “I guess you can’t copy someone else’s journey, man.”
At one point I came across a large park fountain. It was surrounded by desks full of people scribbling furiously and then dashing to the fountain to dip the papers in the water. The papers disintegrated into ash each time one was submerged in the fountain, causing the writer to dejectedly return to his or her desk. Then, I saw a man run to the front, dip his paper, pull his hand out and reveal a gold star. He ran back to his desk and placed it next to several other gold stars before beginning to scribble again. I walked over to him.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Collecting gold stars,” he said, without looking up.
He paused for a moment and then said, “If I don’t get gold stars, how will I know if I’m creating meaningful work?”
I left the desks and the fountain. I knew that I wanted more than simple approval in my life.
I found a field that was full of holes. I looked down and saw people inside each one. I called down to one person that seemed to be zoning out.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m working. I have to work,” she said, jumping to attention.
“Wouldn’t you rather work with other people?”
“No, other people distract me. I must work first and then I can have people in my life when I make my first million.”
I left her in her hole, knowing I wanted more out of life than to work in solitude with no one to share my day-to-day journey. So I continued to walk.
One of the great themes in stories is the journey. Stories draw us in when characters take a path to learn something about themselves, but in truth, life goes on whether we take a journey or not. The journeys just find us. Even outside the confines of the Emerald City, the people I know who are the happiest find ways to continue to learn and grow and explore. For now, I will continue to wander the Yellow Brick world and learn what I can from the journey.