I know the phrase trail of breadcrumbs is familiar to some because of its use in information technology, but it goes back much farther for me. It’s the trail left behind so we don’t lose our way or so others can follow. Several online sites refer to the story of Hansel and Gretel as the source of the expression, or at least credit it as a popular, older example. Very few of us ever leave a trail of literal breadcrumbs behind us. C’mon, how reliable would that be? But we do leave bread crumbs. We leave a trail. Sometimes it’s intentional, and sometimes it’s not. Maybe we should consider it a bit.
What kind of bread crumbs are you leaving? The kind that are nourishing and encouraging as people follow? The kind that alert people to the way they shouldn’t go? Maybe you don’t leave any, because you hoard anything that you have? Or you don’t leave anything behind, because you simply forget people are following you? Perhaps just as important as your answer is your immediate reaction to the question, the rationale behind the answer. Perhaps you can find something similar to one of the following.
- Oh, I hope no one is following me! I’m a mess.
- I worked hard for what I have. I’m not leaving any of it behind. Let them find their own way, like I did.
- Of course, my followers are important to me. Well, they at least make me feel important. I’m not sure where I’m going, but I’m taking others with me.
- I’m trying. I really am. But I don’t always give the people behind me the best clues. I want to be better about that, but sometimes it’s all I can do to keep my stamina and not trip and fall.
Some of the best instructions we can give is, “This is where I stumbled. Watch out.” Or, “I didn’t realize I took a wrong turn until I’d gone out of my way. Be watchful when you get to that option.” We also have to leave room for people’s individual’s journeys. After all, even if we’re following someone, we don’t travel with the same stride, focus, thought process, and pace. We only pick up on a few clues, and the same is true for those behind us. Our goal isn’t to duplicate ourselves or our journeys but to encourage others. Sometimes the encouragement itself is more sustaining than the content of instruction. Sometimes it’s the invitation to rest or take a drink that helps with the next few steps.
As much as we think we’re in a “Be yourself, you’re unique” focus in our culture, we actually spend a lot of energy and time comparing ourselves to others and trying to find a tribe of people like us. When done in limited doses, that can create a healthy community, but our healthy intentions can easily become dysfunctional. We’re never going to be on the same trail with the same people constantly and consistently for a lifetime. We’ll be on that trail on our own sporadically and often. We need to know how to look for breadcrumbs and which ones to trust and how to leave them well as we continue.
So, what do you need to change? How can you walk the trail ahead and continue to grow while simultaneously keeping in mind what you’re leaving behind for others? Do you know what you want to leave behind, but others who are following aren’t seeing it lived out loud so that they’ll never actually receive what you want to give? You might need to adjust how you drop the breadcrumbs in order to truly encourage others.