Time to Wander
Updated: Feb 20
When I was in high school, I thought that everyone was supposed to decide what they wanted to be as an adult by the time they graduated. I assumed that most of my peers, in fact, had already decided (as sixteen year olds; so naïve). In my gullible, developing mind I was the only one floating around without any idea what I was doing or where I was going or who I wanted to become. I thought I wanted to be a teacher (not so that I could shape young minds; this was based solely on the idea that teachers got to write on whiteboards and I loved writing on whiteboards).
Halfway through college, I had a rude awakening. I was starting my junior year, I had finished most of my prerequisite classes, and I was preparing to take upper level psychology courses (because at this point I had realized writing on whiteboards was a weak reason to become a teacher and psychology was fun). I can’t tell you the exact moment I came to the conclusion because I don’t know when it happened, but it was as though I woke up one day and becoming a psychologist was the last thing on Earth that I wanted. Was it a class I took? Was it a research paper that finally broke the camel’s back? In any case, the career goals and life path that I had focused on for the past two years no longer appealed to me. I didn’t want to be a therapist and I didn’t want to do research and I especially did not want to get a doctorate; without those plans, which I’d thought sounded great for such a long time, I was rudderless. I felt like I’d been dumped on a desert island.
While I was reeling from this very inconvenient realization, I decided to brave talking to my mom about it, even though I knew she would make me talk about my feelings (bleh; she’s a psychologist). We went on a walk that was way too uphill and she told me about all the different career paths she had explored. And then she said the most disgusting thing that I have ever heard: “You’re going to have so many different jobs.” I didn’t want “so many” different jobs. I wanted one job, I wanted it to be the right job, and I wanted it to make me rich and happy and fulfilled. I wanted to be able to pin all my dreams on it and not have to worry about anything because I’d found my calling. Being adrift like that, with no goal and no clear place to start looking for one, was anxiety provoking. Suddenly I was picturing a future of me living in my dad’s basement, forced to follow the same chore chart we’d come up with when I was in elementary school, which I’d thought I’d finally escaped.
For me, the fear of not knowing was almost entirely about a job and financial stability, but it holds true for basically everything that we do. Uncertainty about almost anything can be paralyzing. It’s impossible to predict the future, but part of being human is having the ability to consider it and the desire to map it out. In some ways, we are almost obsessed with being able to predict it; pick up a newspaper and you’ll probably be able to find a horoscope to guide you. Go to the bookstore and find hundreds of self-help books that teach you how to plan for relationships and financial success and basically anything you want. It’s not wrong to plan for the future—it’s human to want to know what will happen and to work towards goals and visions.
But nobody can really know the future, and trying to have control over every aspect is just as stressful as not having control over anything. In addition to that phrase being the most disgusting thing I’d ever heard it was also the most freeing. I was on a desert island, but I wasn’t in a cage anymore. I didn’t know how to get to them, but there were possibilities everywhere. It was exciting to not know. I could let go of the things I thought should happen and judgments I thought were facts and goals that seemed set in stone because it looked like everyone else was achieving them. There is freedom and potential and beauty out there that get overlooked when we only see the one path we’ve carved; a path that we haven’t even really carved yet, because it stretches ahead of us. I had been on the desert island the whole time, convinced that it was the whole world, until I opened my eyes and saw the ocean. Realizing that it was normal, and even expected, of me to take so many random chances and opportunities and just wander around for however long, a weight lifted off of my shoulders. I let go of my ideas and my plans and even my need to have plans (sometimes), and it was like the universe opened up. I didn’t have any idea what to do, and that meant that I could do anything.
Not knowing the future (or anything really) doesn’t mean being ignorant or irresponsible. You can not know everything and still work towards something. There is purpose and meaning to be found in aimlessness. Maybe it just means accepting that not everything is under your control and that not everything has to be.
Maybe a year after my mom told me that I was probably going to be a transient, moving from job to job continually, one of my professors made this point: there is always an exception to the rule. He argued that these exceptions meant there was actually very little about the human mind that we know. We think that trauma causes the brain to react in certain ways, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the brain reacts in those ways without the presence of trauma. So what causes it? How do we know? How incredible and terrifying is the human brain? And does that uncertainty mean that there’s no point in anything, or does it give us the opportunity to keep discovering and shifting and expanding?
Being adrift might not be feasible for extended periods of time. We have to be able to make decisions and achieve goals. But every once in a while, choosing to wander allows you to take a step back, to reinvent, to reorient, and to renew. Take advantage of it. Find a balance between the things that you need to know and the things that you have time to figure out. Debasish Mridha said, “Take a chance. Dare to live at the edge of uncertainty.” (To be honest, I don’t know the context of that quote, but what a great reinforcement of everything I just made up.) Recognize your island. Stop holding on to it so tightly. Splash around in the ambiguity of being alive. There’s a bigger world out there ready for you to explore it.