Getting Lost is Not a Waste of Time
“We can park the van and walk to town
Find the cheapest bottle of wine that we could find
And talk about the road behind
How getting lost is not a waste of time
Le Bois d’Amour will take us home
And in a moment we will sing as the forest sleeps”
– Jack Johnson, What You Thought You Need
I was thinking about getting lost, and how it never really turns out that badly. There are different ways to get lost, of course. Getting lost on the road used to be common until we put global positioning services in our pockets. Shame really, in most cases when I wasn’t in a particular hurry, I used to love pulling the atlas out and looking up the street name I was looking at to figure what the heck went wrong on my drive. There’s magic in maps, and the whole world would open up for you in that moment of realization of where you were. Now people just follow directions from a phone.
I see a generation of students graduating with degrees that don’t really tell them what the directions are. You get a degree in Electrical Engineering you generally know the first step on the path after that. But what of the Philosophy or the Business major? What shall they do as a first step out into the world? Suddenly lost in a world that seemed to offer clear steps to take every moment until this one. And to double down we’ll throw a pandemic at you. Enjoy! So it’s no surprise that so many are looking around saying What next? and hoping for an answer. The answer lies within, friend. You’ve been told what to do for your entire life, now it’s your turn to tell us what you want to do. Don’t know? Welcome to adulthood. Take the time to listen. Do things that pull you in different directions. Uncertainty is a gift should you use it wisely. Most don’t use it wisely. Life is full of transition moments where you need to sort through things to find your way. Not what you “have to do” but what you wish to experience. What is the path that brings you there? Be patient, you’ll find the way.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Closely related is being lost in your mind. Not losing your mind in a road rage sort of way, but lost in your thoughts. Driving an hour and realizing you’re already there and not quite sure where you were for the duration. Where did the time go? Getting lost is a gift. It’s the soul’s way of gently steering you towards another track. I find I’m spending less time lost in my mind as I write more and as I’m more present in the moment. I take long walks trying to get lost in my mind and realizing that I’m present the entire time.
“To be awake is to be alive.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Thoreau was awake, but he was restless and lost until he had time to sort through things. Walden was a great example of sorting through things and putting it on paper to help the rest of us find our own way. I think of the moment before he went into the woods, when he was living a life of quiet desperation and lost on the path. He found it in writing and contemplation and conversation with great thinkers like Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I should think there might be no better place to find your way than getting lost in conversation amongst great thinkers. That might not be possible with that cast of characters, but we can still tap into their thoughts, conveniently downloadable right onto that magic computer in your pocket.
“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
And here I think of the scene from Dead Poet’s Society where the boys find the cave and reveal the great works of time to each other. The magic is in discovery and sharing and lifting each other up. Conspiring with some fellow soul and realizing that hours have gone by like minutes. Helping lost souls find their way, together. Until the adults get in the way anyway. Rejoice in getting lost in conversation and in reflection, for getting lost is not a waste of time. It’s a pivot point in our lives and a chance to find a new direction. If you’ll just stop listening to the adults telling you where to go and listen to yourself.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s easy to get lost in this mad world. Billions of souls all trying to find their way – how do we figure out our place in all of this? The world sparkles in light and breathless magic. The world also grinds down dreams into dust and feeds it back to you as cake if you let it. Who says everyone else has it figured out anyway? I can assure you they don’t. Celebrate being lost. It’s far more interesting than knowing every step laid out in order like those cars in amusement parks that ride on tracks. Remember how boring that got as you realized you weren’t really going anywhere special? Suddenly the only interesting part was crashing into the car in front of you or getting bumped from behind. I’ve seen many career paths that look just like that. There’s nothing wrong with finding yourself off the track. You’ll be amazed at the view as new paths open up ahead of you.
Walking in woods and quietly gliding on a sailboat (far from present life’s complexities) have always drawn me like no other pastimes, but without really understanding why. It just feels right. I’ve tried to explain this feeling to questioners of our recent adventure by saying, “time slows down”. I think several of your posts come remarkably closer to a proper explanation. Thanks for helping to explain this feeling for which I’ve been unable to adequately define. Keep going!