“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where . . .” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Last week I found myself wandering around Killarney, a quaint but touristy town nestled in Southwest Ireland’s mountainous and lush County Kerry. Realizing I was caught in my own thoughts and not paying attention to the physical world, I stopped walking and looked around.
“Where am I?” I hadn’t the faintest clue.
“Where am I going?” I had no idea.
“What am I even doing?” Again, no answer. I turned down the nearest street, which eventually led me to a dead end.
I panicked. “Seriously, WTF am I doing??” This time I meant it more philosophically.
At that moment I realized that all of the things I loved about traveling — the people, the sights, the newness and the romantic adventure of it all — ceased to excite me. For someone whose most passionate of passions is traveling, this really alarmed me. I didn’t necessarily want to go home; worse, I couldn’t remember what I wanted.
I was lost. Not only physically, but in general I found myself directionless. After six weeks of nonstop travel, I felt burned out. Maybe some rest and solitude would do me good. I knocked on the door to the nearest bed & breakfast, asked for a discounted rate, and stepped into a room all to myself, the first I’d seen in over a month.
After a few days of solitude, zero sightseeing, and time to collect my thoughts, I realized how I got so lost. Here’s how you can get lost, wander aimlessly, and never find your way:
Don’t care where you end up. Not having a destination in mind is an excellent way to get lost. Wandering with no aspiration to get somewhere will ensure you get nowhere. You may stumble on some great things, but they won’t have much meaning in your journey because frankly, you don’t care where you end up.
Forget where you want to go. Even if initially you do care where you end up, forgetting your desired destination will help you lose your way. Sure, you’ll be moving, but you’ll probably end up somewhere you don’t want to be.
Forget why you’re going there. You won’t care to reach your destination if you forgot why you wanted to go there in the first place. If you don’t reconnect with your original vision and remind yourself why you chose to go on the journey, sooner or later, you’ll lose yourself.
Bring a broken compass. Or better yet, don’t bring a compass at all. A broken compass will trick you into thinking you’re on the right path. If you don’t take a break and recalibrate your compass to North, you’ll keep heading toward a false goal. You may be moving quickly, but it’ll be in the wrong direction.
Don’t use a map. A map can show you it’s possible to reach your goal. A map can also show you different routes to get there. This is useless when trying to get lost.
Ignore your surroundings. By ignoring your surroundings, you won’t notice when you’re lost. If you notice you’re lost, you may be tempted to find the right way. Just ignore the world around you, keep your head down, and press onward.
Ignore your sense of direction. Don’t listen to your intuition when it tells you you may be heading down the wrong path. By the same token, if you see a path that excites or intrigues you, ignore that feeling. It’ll probably lead you to your desired destination, and worse, it may get you there quicker.
Stop moving. If you find yourself lost, immediately stop! By moving, you risk getting back on the right track. It’s best to just stay put.
When in doubt, follow the crowd. Everyone must be going where you want to go, right? It may seem that way, but more than likely they have a different destination in mind. If you follow the crowd, you’ll quickly forget your way and end up where everyone else wants you to be.
Don’t ask for help. God forbid, do not ask for help! There will be people around you who know the lay of the land and can point you in the right direction. Or worse, they may be heading in the same direction and can accompany you along the way, decreasing your chances of getting lost again. It’s best avoid companions and stay lonely on the road to losing yourself.
I realized I lost touch with the original vision of why I was traveling and what I wanted to gain from this journey. My metaphorical compass was off and I forgot which way was North.
In any journey, there are bound to be ups and downs. Nothing will always be fun, even something as exciting as traveling. But by keeping in mind why you’re doing something and constantly reminding yourself of your purpose, you’ll keep moving in the right direction.
Do you feel stuck or lost right now? If so, you’re probably doing a great job following into one or more of these traps, just like I was. But there’s good news: it’s never too late to get back on track or correct course. Or as George Eliot put it: “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”