It’s not harmless to keep on going down a path you just don’t want to be on. You might not think the stakes are life or death. You may tell yourself it’ll be okay, that somehow it’ll all work itself out in the end. But my guess is that you’ll find a lot of suffering along the way.
I’d also argue that while following a path you don’t belong on might not lead to your physical death, it’ll surely lead to the death of something (your happiness, for one; your belief/trust in yourself, for another; the fulfillment of your purpose and/or what matters to you, for a third).
Here’s what you’re up against if you keep on carrying on in a direction you just don’t want to be going:
1. If you don’t quit, it will cost you something
If the path you’re on doesn’t deeply matter to you, or worse if it’s a path that belongs to someone else (what your parent/spouse/boss/etc. want for your life), you will reach the final outcome and won’t be fulfilled. And all the effort, time, money, resources, and the list goes on that you spent to get to that outcome is all the effort/time/money/resources/etc. that you can’t get back.
2. You will miss other opportunities that present themselves because you’re on this one path and won’t let yourself veer off
It’s really easy to put blinders on when you’re on a path toward a particular goal. Thing is, if that goal isn’t what you really want, then those blinders serve to keep you from seeing any other good things in your periphery that are available to you. You will pass them by without even realizing they are there. While it’s likely those opportunities will come by again in your life, it may take some time (days/months/weeks/years) for them to show up.
3. You will deny yourself what truly brings you happiness and fulfillment because your focus will be on reaching the end of the path you’re currently following
With those blinders on and a firm commitment to see this thing through to the end, you might tamp down any feelings you have that this isn’t the path you’re meant to be on. You may tell yourself that suffering is just part of the deal to get to where you want to go. You might even start trying to convince yourself that you’ll be happy when you reach the end result. But know this: all the time you spend unhappy and unfulfilled chasing after something you don’t really want is all the time you can never get back. You’re also really likely to slide into bitterness/anger/resentment when you finally reach the end only to discover that the outcome isn’t what you hoped it would be.
4. If you don’t quit, the longer you follow that path, the more lost you will feel
This one goes back to self-trust. Self-trust, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, is the first secret of success. You won’t ever succeed in being who you want to be if you don’t first trust yourself implicitly. Every step you take down a path you don’t want to be on is a little notch carved out of your self-trust. Carve enough notches and you won’t have any self-trust left. And when you don’t trust yourself to know what you most want to have/be/do/say, you end up feeling rudderless, adrift, and directionless in your own life.
5. You will disconnect from yourself, which will also shatter your self-trust
All the answers you really need to fix your life are inside of you. Sometimes people (yes, my hand is raised) don’t act on those answers, instead we wait for permission, guidance, and/or a guarantee from others (whom exactly?) before we make a move to take ourselves in the direction we want/need to go. When you disconnect from your own wisdom and put your life in the hands of someone else, you disempower yourself. And powerless is never a place you want to be.
6. You will feel trapped and/or stuck
That disconnect will likely leave you feeling like your life isn’t your own and/or you don’t have any choices. You always (always, always!) have choices. Sometimes, there are no great choices, but there are always choices. But if you disconnect from yourself and end up feeling boxed in and trapped, it’s really easy to start looking outside yourself for answers. If you do that, two things will happen: 1. you’ll give your power to someone else and 2. you’re likely to spiral into even more powerlessness in most areas of your life, which will leave you defeated and waiting (and waiting and waiting) for others to come rescue you.
7. If you don’t quit, you will end up feeling like you’re living a lie
That disconnect will also make you feel like you’re living a lie. And when you lie to yourself, you lose all respect for yourself. And when you lose all respect for yourself, you: stop taking excellent care of yourself, believe other people’s opinions of you are more important than your own opinion of yourself, and allow all kinds of terrible choices and behavior not only from others but also from yourself.
8. Or maybe you shut yourself down emotionally and you don’t feel anything at all
You go through life on autopilot, doing things and moving forward out of sheer will instead of any internal desire or fulfillment in what you’re doing. When that happens, your life becomes a series of checkboxes, stripping all the joy out of it, instead of an adventure or a journey, where joy can actually be found.
9. You’ll be betraying yourself because following a path you don’t want to be on is flying in the face of who you are at the core
And it’s the self-betrayal that will completely decimate your self-trust. Self-betrayal, I would argue, is the biggest cause of self-abusive behaviors (substance abuse, addictions, self-harm, etc.) Betraying yourself is the most debilitating thing you could ever do to yourself because there’s just no getting away from that hurt. Just like you wouldn’t trust someone else who betrayed you, you will never come to trust yourself by betraying yourself.
10. If you don’t quit, you won’t realize your own potential because whatever path you’re on that doesn’t feel right will never lead you to who/where you most want/need to be
You won’t ever discover all you could have/be/do/say by following a path that doesn’t feel right to you. Your intuition, I believe, is always trying to guide you to what’s best for you, what will help you grow and become all that you could be. Your intuition will reveal what you’re meant to be doing and give meaning to your life, but only if you’ll listen to it and act upon it. You’ll never realize everything you are capable of by following a path that doesn’t feel right to you.
So will you avoid the perils and quit or will you carry on going down a path you don’t belong on?