Choose your own adventure: the paths we leave behind

Strategist and storyteller Natasha Randhawa on how returning to choose a new path is part of life's adventure

You’re seven years old and you’re hurtling through hyperspace…

You’re slaying dragons, sparring with enemy ninjas, protecting planets from total destruction. Mum may have said no to McDonald’s for dinner but here, you call the shots.

You’re nose deep in yet another Choose Your Own Adventure book. And in schools and libraries and homes all over the world, other children are choosing them too. The series sold over two hundred and fifty million books from its launch in 1979 to 1999. It’s been printed in thirty eight languages. Even now, it’s the fourth bestselling children’s book series of all time.

As a kid, adventure is enticing. As a girl growing up in the nineties, when adventures were whatever you could conjure up with your Barbies, those books were irresistible. They were portals to fully-fledged worlds. In fact, The Cave of Time (1979) — the story that kicks the series off — centres on a cave that, you guessed it, can transport you anywhere in time. Take one tunnel and it’s up to you to save the Titanic. Another, you’re building The Great Wall of China with your bare hands, or riding a mammoth, bucking bronco style.

Before any time travel ensues, however, the book begins rather ominously. Remember — you cannot go back. A warning… or perhaps, a challenge? The point is, you will go back. Going back is the point. The magic of a Choose Your Own Adventure book isn’t the adventure; it’s the choice. You’re seven years old, and these pages are your proverbial ice cream stall. You can pick chocolate and still get to taste peanut butter, bubblegum and Rocky Road. When you’re a kid, you get to take things back and try again.

So how old are we when we stop choosing adventures?

For the majority, adulthood is accompanied by more agency and decision-making. Many of us are The Decision Makers — entrepreneurs, strategists, experts — and as our careers span years into decades, we’re generally expected to be all the better at choosing well. It’s a strange paradox then, that when making such decisions, the desire to keep moving forward can leave us stuck with tunnel vision. As brands we’re eager to be liked, perceived as cool. So we focus on what feels fresh; on disruption through radical new campaigns and reaching those blue ocean markets. There’s a resistance in revisiting what’s been left on the cutting room floor. It begs the question; are all forks in the road final? In our quest to pursue the best route, should we be revisiting the paths we once left behind?

The world needs new ideas and innovation, but innovation doesn’t require reinventing the wheel. Butterfly hair clips and low rise jeans are back in fashion, so what’s hiding in your archives that could be back on trend? Perhaps now is the right time to dust off those proposals that were vetoed in 2017, long before the pandemic reshaped the working landscape and the world at large.

Indeed Covid has, in some ways, catalysed a new sense of freedom for alternative career paths. According to insights published by LinkedIn, there was a 143% increase in UK e-commerce hires between 2019 and 2022. Add to that significant growth in Healthcare, Construction and Specialised Medicine, we get a glimpse at ‘transferable skills’ in full effect. Just this week, Forbes reported that there’s an estimated 35 million digital nomads worldwide (and counting). And if you’ve read Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper’s book on ‘squiggly careers’, you’ll already know that more and more of us are moving frequently between roles, industries, locations and careers. We’re doing things we once ruled out, and we’re doing them on our own time.

Of course, we’ve always known that much of life is non-linear — but how often do we think of success that way? Changing direction doesn’t equal regression. As grown-ups, let’s give ourselves permission to backtrack. Share those ideas that didn’t quite stick before; they may now have staying power. Sample every flavour of ice cream.

Choose your own adventure, and then choose another.

Featured image: Choose Your Own Adventure on Bookriot

Natasha Randhawa, Editor-at-large at MediaCat Magazine

Tash joined the magazine as Editor-at-large at the start of 2023. Previously she headed comms for The Marketing Society (2018-2022). Now, as Editor-at-large, she travels around Southeast Asia, writing about culture, social impact, creativity and technology, and how these forces influence the marketing industry and wider business world.

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