This is another throw-back post from my old blog, several years old. While my writing has changed (and hopefully gotten a bit better), the message is still powerful and I’m amazed at the wisdom I had in my early 20s. Looking back at this now, one of the great part is that I have had the chance to study what I call “the wander years”. Common terminology calls this the liminal phase, or the phase between who a person once was and who they are becoming. In case you want more, I did add my academic response to a discussion forum on this topic below.
The Wander Years
I am in the middle of a forest. The trees are thick with a vibrant shade of green, but peaks of sunshine still manage to seep through. Purple, pink, and orange flowers line the either side of the trail. To the east I can hear the gentle babble of the sparkling blue river I just crossed. To the west, large purple mountains clash with the clouds, dotting an azure sky. When people talk about things being beautiful, a day being perfect, this is surely what they mean.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to fully appreciate all the natural wonders around me. I’ve gone mile without picking my head up.The constant chatter in my head blocks out the chirping birds, the light wind brushing the leaves, and even the crunch of my footsteps on the soft dirt trail scattered with twigs. My vision is skewed, not because of a lost contact, but because I am too busy searching for another trail.
I passed another trail a few miles back heading towards the south, and another a few miles before that heading toward the east. Neither felt quite right, so I kept going. Now I am second guessing that decision. I know there are a few more side trails coming up ahead, but will they lead me in the right direction? Where am I going anyway? I think I am…
Well, maybe no quite lost.
The term “wander” probably best explains the past 2 years of my life. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it means to:
1a : to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal
b : to go idly about
2: to follow a winding course
3a : to go astray (as from a course) : stray <wandered away from the group>
b : to go astray morally : err
c : to lose normal mental contact : stray in thought <his mind wandered>
Aside from 3b, I’d say, yes, that is about right.
After college, I thought I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. How quickly that all became blurry. For starters, things happened that I couldn’t have predicted. Then I began to learn more, read more, and do different things. My thinking began to change. This took effect on the ideas I had for myself and my future.
Many times, I became frustrated. I knew I was on this Earth for a purpose, but what the heck was it!? Too many times, I let my frustration turn into disappointment, bringing me to tears. Running was not the answer, nor were the two jobs I tried out. Life satisfaction was a far off concept for me.
So, I wandered. And I’m still wandering. But I think I’m getting closer to that one path, that one trail that was meant for me and me alone.
Funny thing is, I’m getting there because of all the things I’ve learned along the way in these past two years. I’ve learned I hate driving an hour to work, in a busy and crowded city. I also hate dressing up and wearing heals. On the other hand, working with kids in an unstructured environment isn’t for me either.
I’ve learned people can’t read my mind. Sometimes, I just need to say how I feel, even if that’s not that natural thing for me to do. Communication is key.
I’ve learned to be me, and I’ve learned what I value. I like to be warm, happy, and well fed…but I don’t need a whole lot. I don’t really like BIG things, just small, simple things…and things that are as eco-friendly as possible.
I’ve learned I love running…but not when it becomes my forefront. Then it becomes work, and with that comes unnecessary pressure. I like running for its serenity, and how it enhances who I am.
I’ve re-learned what my values and my morals are.
The list goes on and on.
All these things have helped shape who I am, and expanded my horizons.
If only I would have slowed down, picked my head up, and enjoyed the views along the way…
Yes, I was wandering. But, as it turns out, wandering is what I needed to do. I may have gotten a few bumps and bruises along the way, but my wandering wasn’t really such a bad thing after all.
I haven’t done too much research on the subject, but I don’t think I’m alone in my experience of these “wander years”. Actually, I think the majority of the population goes through the same thing. Usually though, it’s given a negative connotation.
For adults, it’s most often known as a mid-life crisis. For teens and young adults, they’re either lazy or “dreamers” who need to come back to “real world”.
There are the exceptions of course…
There are the child prodigies and young entrepreneurs, some millionaires before they reach adulthood, who know exactly what they are born to do. Then there are those who have a calling so strong that they know, even when still playing in a sandbox, that they were meant to lead, preach, or heal.
It’s hard not to be jealous.
But truth be told, we are all meant to be on this earth for some reason, and most of us have to do quite a bit of digging to get there. And that’s okay! Because it is when we wander that we make mistakes, fall, and learn. It’s a time of exploration, self-discovery, and beauty…if only we take the time to pick our heads up and enjoy it.
[Again, it’s unfortunate that our society looks down on wanderers, instead forcing many people to take on jobs that they really don’t enjoy (yes, you can find meaning in those jobs too, you can find mean in your life in anything you do, but that’s another blog!). Recently, I listened to an audio CD, “Thrive” that listed Copenhagen, Germany as one of the world’s happiest places. A huge reason for this is because people have the freedom to try different job without fear of debt or others opinions – the sacrifice is that the majority of a person’s income goes to taxes, but hey, who cares if your happy!]
My hope in writing this blog is to encourage others to embrace their “wander years” because they are important parts of our lives. It takes a lot of trust in oneself, and maybe a Higher Calling, but there is no point in worrying or getting down on yourself in these years. Our wander years having meaning and purpose, whether they are spent exploring the mountains or working at a restaurant just to get by. As long as we don’t give up and believe in ourselves, we will all find the direction we are supposed to be traveling in and reach our destinations…or destinies.
So wander on my friends, and enjoy the adventure.
From February 2018:
“Not all who wander are lost” is a line from one of my favorite poems by J.R.R. Tolkien* from his Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It’s become a common bumper sticker (or in my case, a car air freshener that lost its smell long, long ago), but it has always held great meaning for me. I was able to put words to that meaning as I read the assigned readings for the week. Bridges (2004) calls the gap between one life phase and the next the neutral zone, while Stein (1987) describes the phase of a person’s internal structures from a former identity being dissolved and new structures constellated as the liminal phase. Personally, I can going to call this “the wandering phase”, a phase that seems aimless at first, as if one is lost in the woods at night, grasping for direction by the light of the moon, and finally begins to find purpose at the approach of sunrise.
Further building upon the work of Bridges (2004) when he describes surrender as a time when “one must give into the emptiness and stop struggling to escape it” (p.140), I liken it to the hiker who must give into the darkness, make camp, and wait until morning to find help, also acknowledging that help may come in many different ways. Four pages later, Bridges speaks of the “wilderness”, which he reveals in Hebrew also means “sanctuary”. To extend this analogy (or truth?) one more step and call upon the work of Brene Brown when she says “there are times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through the uncertainty…this is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself “I am the wilderness””. In that sense, we are both our own wilderness and our own sanctuary. The gap between phase of one’s life is not an abstract place, but a place when one needs to go inside oneself and seek one’s own truth.
The Hine (1987) reading reminded me of my own ceremony during a transitional phase in my life a year ago, though at the time I did not call it such. It was just something that I felt called to do, which, when reading, alleviated my anxiety in being creative enough to create a ritual. During this time, I was doing my best to surrender my identity as an competitive athlete. In the year and a half previous to my ceremony, lots of tears, frustration, and anger ensued. Finally, after a lot of praying, journalist, and soul searching, I was able to begin to let go. I wrote a letter to my “old legs” and then, on Christmas Eve at dusk, I buried the letter into one of my favorite trees in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This ceremony, like the ones described by Hines (1987) helped me to begin to find gratitude for my past self and embrace who I was, and still am, becoming.
Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Hine, V. (1987). Self-created ceremonies of passage. In Mahdi, L. M., Foster, S., & Little, M., Betwixt & Between: Patterns of masculine and feminine initiation (pp. 304-326). La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company.
Stein, J. O., & Stein, M. (1987). Psychotherapy, initiation and the midlife transition. In Mahdi, L. M., Foster, S., & Little, M., Betwixt & Between: Patterns of masculine and feminine initiation (pp. 287-301). La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company.