99 tips for a better world (28 of 99): get lost (if you want to)
The thing about humans is we want all the wrong things. We want what we can’t have, we want things that are bad for us, and we even want things that don’t exist.
Take certainty, for example. We are practically programmed for certainty. We crave it. Some of us want it more than others and go a little bit crazy when we don’t get it, but all of us want it to some extent.
But it doesn’t exist.
Nothing is certain (yeah, yeah, except for death and taxes).
So here we all are craving certainty even though it doesn’t exist. What’s even crazier is that we pretend that it does.
We swan around the planet pretending we’ve got at least a few things figured out. We talk to each other as if every move we make is considerate of the circumstances and will be executed according to a well-developed plan. When, actually, we’re just making stuff up as we go along.
Only in the darkest corners of our minds or in hushed tones with our most trusted friends do we admit the truth: ‘I don’t know whether I’m doing the right thing. Do I even want to be a lawyer? Do I even want to marry this guy?’
As a consequence of this cloak and dagger approach to uncertainty we’re not very good at it. You would think for something so consistent in our lives, we’d all be experts. We would know the difference between ‘I’m pretty sure I want to get married – it’s just a bit scary to commit to one person for the rest of my life’ and ‘I keep having dreams in the middle of the night – I’m in a spaceship that is spiralling out of control towards the sun. Back at NASA they keep screaming “ABORT MISSION! ABORT MISSION!”’
Instead, we tend to lump these feelings together. Rather than heading the call to abort mission you might write of the spaceship dream as ‘just nerves!’ Or mistake your fast-beating heart for ‘I’ve got a very bad feeling about this’ and run away to the nearest blanket fort for safety.
One of the more troubling outcomes of our insecurity about uncertainty is that we think we’re alone when we’re not. When, if you don’t really know what you’re doing (and you’re brave enough to admit it) you might think there is something wrong with you. ‘Why does everyone else have it all figured out? What am I missing?’
The joke is on us all. Let’s all get together and laugh. I’m pretty sure no one really knows what they’re doing.
Some people are chilled out cats. They accept the uncertainty and get on with life. Others pretend they’ve got it all figured out and spend their lives trying to protect their houses of cards from sudden gusts of wind. I suspect the rest of us flail around somewhere in between.
‘Sarah, how do you know so much about uncertainty?’ I hear you ask.
Well, I have become somewhat of an expert in recent months.
It’s quite funny really. I am lost.
I am floating around in a sea of uncertainty.
You may recall that a few months ago I quit my job to go travelling. No, I’m not 21. No, this isn’t my big backpacking adventure. (Thank you to everyone who made that mistake and shaved ten years off my life). I had a job I enjoyed on a career path I liked. I had colleagues I loved and an apartment I wanted to marry. But something didn’t feel right (I know, even I find me annoying).
It has been four months since I left work. I went to an ashram in India, I went on pilgrimage in Italy and I drank a lot of craft beer in the United States.
Somewhere along the way (I think it was Portland, OR) it struck me:
I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing with my life.
I guess I had my suspicions, but usually I can make something up. This time I was drawing a blank.
At first my realisation was a source of worry. I decided to knuckle down and figure out what I was going to do with my life. Enough of this nonsense, I thought. Just answer the question. How hard can it really be?
I tried that for a couple of hours and noticed that for the first time in months I felt really, properly miserable. So I decided to stop.
Instead of trying to “find” myself, I just let myself stay lost.
Since realising I was lost and deciding to accept it, I’ve started noticing other people describing the same experience.
I watched Tess Vigeland bring 3000 people to tears with her wonderfully funny and honest speech What the hell are you doing?!
My old colleague sent me an article – Why I Left Google: Thoughts on Trading Pride and Security for Authenticity – which describes my own inner dialogue almost perfectly.
Then another friend found a scrap of paper with a poem I posted on my blog 18 months ago.
The Real Work
by Wendell Berry
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
I’m back in Melbourne now. I’m even back at work! I’m also preparing to relocate overseas for a new job next month.
Just because I have no idea what I’m doing doesn’t mean life has stopped. It couldn’t stop even if I wanted it to. Instead, I put one foot in front of the other and trust that, even though I’m lost, I’ve got plenty of water, food and shelter, so I’ll be fine.
Maybe one day I’ll find some clues about what I’m supposed to be doing with my life…or maybe not. I don’t really mind.