I’ll be away from the computer this week, hanging out at the beach with my family, enjoying lots of cold beverages, and reading a few good books. While I’m away, I have a few treats for you, including a couple of guest posts.
To start with, I’m sharing one of the lessons from A Path for Wanderers & Edge-walkers. Some of my favourite writing recently has been from that e-course, so I thought I’d share a bit of it with you. To find out more and to sign up for weekly emails that will inspire the wanderer in you, go here.
A Path for Wanderers & Edge-walkers – Lesson 8
Following the Thread – A Wanderer’s Journey
Recently I have found myself in conversation with several young people who are beginning the journey into the career stages of their lives. Some have completed university and others are contemplating what course of study they should take. All are wondering “what should I do with my life now?”
These are big, heavy questions, and I have seen the weight of them on more than one face. The people I have spoken with are bright, passionate people who are committed to serving the world with their gifts. They take these decisions very seriously because they want to be true to themselves, true to the Source of their gifts and passions, and true to their communities and the world in which they live. They feel the weight of responsibility, growing up in a world in which poor choices, over-consumption, climate change, conflict, poverty, and so many other challenges are running rampant and threatening to destroy the world we know.
In two recent conversations, with two young women in their early twenties, I have said the same thing when asked for advice. “Hold it all lightly,” I’ve said, when I’ve seen the weight of worry on their faces. “Don’t take tomorrow’s decision as the be-all and end-all of your life. Yes, each decision will help shape your life, and they are important, but each decision does not CONTAIN your life or restrict it in any way.”
“Just follow the thread,” I continue. “Your passions are part of you for a reason, so follow them. If you love spending time in the woods, then spend time in the woods and see where the trees have to teach you. If you love being with children, then be with children and see what you can learn from them. If you love to write, then don’t ever stop writing. Don’t take it too seriously and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to know your path already. Your path will be made clear as you follow it.”
It really is okay to adopt a wanderer’s posture as you make your way through life. You don’t have to have a clear vision of where you will be next year, or the year after that, or ten years into the future.
Your guidance counselor in high school might have told you that you needed to form a goal and pursue it, and your parents might have reinforced that idea, but, though they had your best interests at heart, their advice might not have been the best thing for you to follow. Certainly, there are those people who do well with a single clearly lit path, and I am grateful for those people, for example, who decided early on to become the best doctor or kindergarten teacher or scientist they could be, but you are a wanderer, and wanderers do not do well with clear, straight paths.
Recently I came across some interesting research that suggests that asking questions about your future is of more value than setting goals. Participants in the study were asked to write some version of either “I will complete this task” or “Will I complete this task?” before they were given a series of puzzles to solve. The people who asked a question first instead of setting a goal were consistently more successful in completing the task.
That research was a revelation to me. “You mean it’s OKAY to walk through life asking lots of questions and following dimly lit paths instead of having a clear direction of where I should be going? You mean this can help me SUCCEED?”
Yes, it’s okay, and for wanderers like you and I, it may very well be the ONLY way to live. We are easily distracted by sparkly things. We take the road less traveled. We often find ourselves off the beaten trail. We like to circle the edge and explore the shadowy crevices in the rocks.
The beauty of this life is that we discover things that those on the well-traveled trail never get to experience.
You don’t have to know the future, you just have to follow the thread.
In the myth of Ariadne, Theseus arrives at the palace to fight the mighty Minotaur. It’s the hero’s journey – to pass through the dark and meandering labyrinth to get to the centre where one must battle one’s inner demons in order to emerge successfully into the life one is meant to follow.
To help him reach the centre and emerge successfully, princess Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of thread and tells him to unwind it as he enters the labyrinth and then to follow it back out. He follows her instructions and emerges successfully.
Like Theseus, there will be many times in your life when you will feel like you are lost in a dark and puzzling labyrinth, about to fight demons you can’t even see. At those times, it will be especially important to hang onto the thread of who you are, what you are passionate about, what brings you joy, what you value, where you find love, and what you have to offer the world. That thread will help you reach the centre, will give you security as you fight the Minotaur, and then will help guide you out again to a place where the light will appear once again.
Remember this – it’s just a thread. It can easily be broken if you hold on too tightly or tug it too hard. When, like the young women I spoke with, we take ourselves and our decisions too seriously, it’s like tugging on that thread and expecting too much from it. It’s not a lifeline that will pull you to safety – it’s a thread that you have to hold lightly in your hand as you make your way through life. Sometimes it will feel like it has disappeared, and other times it will feel like it’s slicing its way into your hand when you’re running too fast.
You don’t have to see your way clear to the end of the labyrinth – you just have to follow the thread.
(Note: For an interesting exploration about how the myth of Ariadne represents a woman’s journey into the divine womb, and how the destruction of the Minotaur represents the destruction of patriarchy, read The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd.)
Tips on following the thread:
- Keep a question journal. For this tip, I have to credit my 9 year old daughter Maddy, who recently named her journal “A lifetime of questions”. “I’m going to write all the questions that pop into my head,” she said, “and leave a blank in case I find the answer.” I think it’s a brilliant idea.
- Hold decisions lightly. Each time you start a new job or go on a journey, tell yourself “this is just one step in my journey through the labyrinth. It’s not the WHOLE journey.”
- Explore your passions. If you’ve always been fascinated by art, it may be time to sign up for a class. If you love the water, perhaps it’s time to rent a kayak. If you’re curious about architecture, check with your local university to see if you can audit a class to explore your interest.
- Rely on other people. Like Theseus, making his way through the labyrinth, you need other people who will offer you a ball of thread and will hold the other end of it for you. Don’t go into the dark alone. Find support.
- Change your mind. Sometimes you realize, after you’ve started a new job or new course of study, that it is actually taking you further away from your thread. It’s okay to change your mind and return to the source. It’s okay to be wrong sometimes. There is something to be learned from each decision you make, even the bad ones, so don’t carry regrets with you into the next place you go. Just carry on and get back to that thread.
* * * * *
Interview with Barbara Winter
Last year, when I quit my job to begin my self-employment journey, Barbara Winter was one of the first people who said “Good for you! You’ll do great!” Since then, she has consistently been one of my favourite cheerleaders, encouraging me along this path. Barbara is the author of Making a Living without a Job, an essential tool for anyone considering entrepreneurship as a way of living. She blogs at Buon Viaggio.
1. I know that you are a lifelong wanderer. Tell us how wandering makes your heart sing.
I’m pretty sure I was born with wanderlust. My father had a chronic case of it and several of his sisters were wanderers—and role models for me. Ironically, I grew up in a town where wandering was considered to be a suspicious activity engaged in by those who were malcontent.
Fortunately, I paid no attention and have always made room in my life for wandering in both large and small ways. As I learned more about the creative process, I also became convinced that a regular change of scenery was favored by the Muse.
As travel writer Bill Bryson says, “Is there anything more wonderful (other than a chocolate cream pie) than waking up in a new place that you’ve always wanted to visit?”
2. What are some of the ways that wandering has been incorporated into your lifestyle?
My longing to wander went unfulfilled for several years of my life. It wasn’t until I realized that I could create a business that paid me to travel that I really began to get the hang of it.
I don’t think wandering should be limited, however, to long explorations. Every so often, I get in my car and practice what I call Getting Lost on Purpose. Sometimes that just means exploring a part of my nearby world that I’ve never investigated and sometimes I head out of town with no destination in mind and see what catches my fancy.
I also have a strong nesting instinct and after my daughter and I moved to Minneapolis, I wrote in a journal, “We put down roots and sprouted wings.” Roots and Wings became a theme for my life—and a chapter in my book Making a Living Without a Job.
All four of my siblings share the wanderer gene so we sometimes plan family reunions in exotic or interesting parts of the world. My sister Nancy is an archaeologist who lived in Athens for many years and then in Rome for the past decade. She’s been a wonderful addition to our family travels because of her experience—and language skills
Our first trip together was a bit rocky, but having these shared adventures has had a positive impact on our relationships.
One of the highlights of my wandering was the sabbatical I took several years ago. I spent about three months of that time traveling alone in Europe with absolutely no itinerary. I would literally get up in the morning and ask myself, “Where do you want to go today?” and then go there. Since most of my previous wanderings were more scheduled, this was heady stuff.
3. What tips would you have for people who want to use the strengths of their wandering hearts as part of their businesses or vocation?
The options for incorporating wandering into a business grow all the time. Not that long ago, people who had the urge to travel usually ended up in travel related businesses, but today our enterprises can be just about anything with a travel component added on.
It’s never been easier to create a portable business. Technology makes it possible to do so many things without being in a fixed location. I wrote an essay about that a few years ago and said we’re the first people in the history of the world for whom geography is not an obstacle in creating a business. I said business in the future is going to look very different. Our customers and clients will be people who share our consciousness, not our postal code.
Another bonus is that an entrepreneur can control the amount of traveling and the places traveled to. I often encounter road weary corporate folks who are being sent hither and yon and not having much fun doing so since their itinerary seems limited to Airport to Hotel to Meeting to Airport. Smart entrepreneurs neither overbook nor underbook themselves which strikes me as a much healthier way to go.
Then there’s this delightful extra: as an entrepreneur, I get a special thrill from creating trips that incorporate business and therefore are tax deductible.
4. Any other advice for wanderers?
Get creative about making it happen. So many people still think they have to scrimp and save for years in order to have One Trip of a Lifetime. Years ago, when I still hadn’t figured it out, I read a line in a book that I memorized and adopted as my potential epitaph:”For her, crossing the ocean was like crossing the street.” That’s how I wanted my life to look.
Another thing that has really enriched my wandering is to create themes. So, for instance, one year my project was to see all the Monet paintings I could see with my own two eyes. Another year I explored gardens; then my theme was London bookshops. I also made a project out of sampling and rating creme brulee wherever I went (as a public service).
Weaving personal passions into our wandering, seeking out things that we personally love enriches our lives enormously.
As St. Augustine said all those years ago, “The world is like a book and he who stays home reads only one page.”
* * * * * *
The question about my life that I ask most often is…
Some of the things that feel like “threads” (passions, values, etc.) in my life are…
I worry most about decisions when…
The new mantra I want to carry when I make decisions is…
* * * * *
Enjoyed this post? You can get 11 more of these, and a compilation of them in an attractive e-book once they’re all completed, if you sign up for A Path for Wanderers & Edge-walkers.