A Definition of Wandering

It’s been a while since I’ve written on this blog, as the distractions of life have gotten in the way of a lot of my focus on keeping this updated.  But I figured today was as good a day as any to get back in the swing of things, as I now sit one month away from my next big adventure, one that in many ways is even bigger than my Pacific Crest Trail hike in 2015. I wanted to come back and start up this blog again, not in spite of the twists and turns that life has thrown in my direction over the past year or two, but because of them.  I think, in many ways, those twists are the reason I’m setting out on my upcoming journey, because life is supposed to be unexpected, problematic, random, and unplanned, and I’m looking to embrace all of those things as I set out on a wander with only the loosest of ideas as to what I’m getting in to.

One of the things I’ve struggled with over the past few years is the idea of needing a plan, a direction, a goal to attain.  For 20 years, I operated with a single-minded drive to achieve one goal in life, and spent all my time, energy, and money, in pursuit of that goal.  For me, the idea of working in the film industry was an all-consuming ambition, the desire to become a Director and make my own movies the single driving factor in all my life decisions.  From picking a school for undergrad, to moving literally half way across the world, to determining the personal and romantic relationships I pursued (or ended), every choice I made was with the caveat that it had to in some way advance that one goal.  If I grew stagnant following one path, I pivoted, determining another and pursuing it instead.  When I knew I’d never reach my goal in one place, I’d pack up and move.  When a relationship began negatively affecting my ability to pursue my goal, I’d end it, or sabotage it to the point that it would end anyway.  When my career seemed to take me in the wrong direction, I quit, and tried another avenue.  My thoughts were all-consumed with that singular ambition, that one driving goal, that plan for my life.

After 20 years of needing a goal or a purpose, it surprisingly took me only three days to become disabused of that notion.  Three days into hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  Three days kicking myself because I wasn’t reaching even my daily goals.  Three days worried that I wouldn’t achieve my ultimate purpose in starting the hike, that of making a documentary on the trail.  Three days of trying, and failing, to meet even the smallest of my lofty expectations for what the hike would be.  Three days that led to the biggest emotional and mental crash I’ve ever had, the point when I hit rock bottom and had to pick myself up again.  Three days that led me to meeting a man who would change my life, with three simple words.

Keep taking steps.

It was not a goal that carried me through the next six months.  There was no attainable purpose at the end of the trail for me, no finish line, beyond the abstract need to continue going north, beyond the general desire to get to Canada.  The thing that kept me going when I broke my leg two months in, the thing that took me back out onto the trail when I healed, the thing that kept me from going back to that single-minded life I had led before the trail, was that simple idea that stayed around long after the man called No Trace had left my life.

Keep taking steps.

Recently, I was asked to choose between two stickers, two seemingly innocuous bumper stickers, and I found myself thinking about this concept.  One sticker read Explore, the other said Wander.  When I asked a coworker what the two words meant to him, he said…

Exploring means you go to a place looking for something to find, with an idea of what you’re going to find.  Wandering means you go to a place not knowing what you’ll find, but open to finding whatever is there.

I’ll let you guess which sticker I chose.

It’s often been said that life is not about the destination, but rather the journey.  I never realized how true that was until I was broken down and forced to choose which path I wanted to take, the one toward a specific destination, filled with failure and disappointment at every wrong turn, or the path that had no wrong turns, because as long as each turn was a step forward, it was a step in the right direction.

So here I stand, a month away from a pilgrimage through Europe with only the loosest of ideas as to what I’m getting into, having a sense of where I’m going, but not knowing at all what I’ll come across.  One month from now I will get off a plane in Rome and set out on a 1200 mile hike toward the western coast of Spain, taking the first steps toward a loose destination with no goal other than to keep taking steps until it’s time to come home.

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