Is Trailblazing Overrated?

Some people lead.  Some people follow.  I do neither.

I go out and quietly do unusual things that other people eventually start doing.  But they don’t do those things because I blazed a trail.  Someone else eventually gets the same idea I had, and they blaze the trail for others to follow.  And in the ensuing stampede, typically, I get left behind.  

I got a paper route when I was nine years old.  Nothing unusual there (at that time; most papers don’t allow kids to deliver papers anymore because of the liability).  But I was a girl. And girls simply weren’t “paperboys” back then.  When I first went to my customers’ houses to collect their subscription fees (another quaint, long-gone practice), I drew blank stares.  “YOU deliver our paper?  Really?  A girl?”  To their credit, most of my customers thought that was really cool, or at least quickly grew accustomed to the idea.  But I had one old guy who just didn’t like it (probably because I didn’t ride my bicycle sidesaddle in a full-length riding skirt).  Every time I went to his door, he loudly yelled back to his wife, “Marge!  The paperboy is here!”  And then he left her to deal with the sordid business of paying a GIRL for the paper.

After I had been delivering papers for years, the newspaper I delivered for ran a story about a papergirl who had been delivering for a few months.  They acted like she was the first papergirl ever.  She was praised for being brave and bucking tradition.  Well, what was I, chopped liver?  I hadn’t created a path, apparently, but I hadn’t followed one, either.

And that seems to be the story of my life.  I go out and casually explore jungles through which other people eventually hack a path and take up residence.

I was chatting online before most people knew what the Internet was.  I wasn’t alone in that jungle, of course, but it was pretty sparsely populated compared with today.  The first time I made a romantic connection and traveled overseas on a colossally bold blind date (in 1994), everyone I knew was shocked by the idea.  “You’re going to visit a man you don’t even know???”  My mom later told me that, after they dropped me off at the airport, my dad said, “We’ll never see her again, you know.”

After that experience (having survived my ostensible brush with death), I thought, “Hey, I should write a book about this, or at least a magazine article.”  But I’m not very good at actually doing something about my great ideas, so I did nothing.  Years later, Internet romance started to go mainstream, and other people wrote books and articles about it and blazed a trail right into that jungle.  They didn’t follow me, but I’d been there long before them.

Right now I’m reading a book about blogging.  (It’s a book Amazon gave me to read and review.)  The book talks about the early days of blogging, and the author proudly boasts that he was an early blogger, starting way back in 2005.  I got to thinking about it and realized that I had MY first blog, as part of a website I created, in 2003.

With that kind of seniority, you’d think I’d be quite the expert on blogs and websites. Actually, I know very little about either.  I love exploring new jungles, but I’m not one to study them.  I learn just enough to get around.  No rivers will be named after me.  Some guy who finds the river long after I crossed it will raft it and map it and slap his name on it.

So I have to ask myself, why am I so often among the first on the scene, but never among the trailblazers?

Some thoughts:

  • I really like my privacy.  I don’t toot my own horn.  My websites have always been anonymous.  Even my signature is illegible (which, I understand, is a hallmark of someone who does not seek glory).
  • I’m kind of lazy.  This could actually be caused by the rampant anemia that apparently dogged me since adolescence and made me so very, very tired.  Or, you know, maybe I’m just kind of lazy.
  • I like being part of something unusual.  I enjoy being in an exclusive jungle, and I don’t want to do anything to draw anyone else there.  And once the jungle gets crowded, it’s no longer as appealing to me.

Trails will get blazed with or without me.  It’s not like I’ve discovered the cure to cancer and I’m just sitting on it, waiting for someone else to discover it.  But I can’t help feeling that I’ve crossed some rivers I should have named.

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