From time to time, I find myself feeling lost. I don't mean a little bit lost - I'm talking about the existential questions.
"What the fuck am I doing with my life? Am I wasting it all? Is everything going to be for naught? What will everyone else think of me?"
And, when that happens, I usually assume that I’ve made a wrong turn somewhere, and start to freak out. But, in truth, I’m usually onto something big when I have that sort of feeling. Which leads me to freak out, question myself, and inevitably self-sabotage by talking myself into abandoning what I’m doing and turning back. Here’s a quick parable for what’s happening.
The Receding Shoreline
When you feel utterly and completely lost, you have managed to swim far enough that you can’t see the shore any more. You know, your old life, that comfortable albeit somewhat boring existence where you went to work every day and worked on someone else’s projects. If you were halfway good at your job, you probably made a decent amount of money and were in general mostly content. Except for that subtle underlying malaise that led you to leave in the first place. Now, when you left that life, and started swimming away from the shore, you looked back every few strokes to make sure that it was still there. Because, you know, it could have moved or something. And maybe you even shouted to someone on land every once in a while. “Hey! How’s it going? What’s the weather like on shore?”
But, over time the shore moved farther away and became smaller, until finally it was just a dot on the horizon. And when you called back to your friends on shore, they couldn’t hear you over the noise of the surf. And finally, one day, you couldn’t see the shore any more. But the strange thing was that you could see another dot in the direction you were swimming. Actually, you could probably see many, many dots, in every direction other than the one you came from. And it was probably pretty scary and confusing, because you didn’t know what dot to swim towards. So you panicked and froze, and realized that you had three options.
Your Three Choices
The first (and most obvious) option is to turn back. That is probably the easiest option, because you knew what would happen if you chose this one. After all, the shore wasn’t that far away, and if you began swimming back, you could probably get there pretty soon. Sure, your whole trip may have been a waste, and you weren’t excited about that place you left, but hey, it’s sort of comfortable in a warm and fuzzy sort of way. So there was a pretty good chance you turned back. And, if you did, you probably ended up with a pretty good job at some company that only left you mildly dissatisfied.
In all honesty, this is probably the best option in most cases, and if you haven’t taken it before, you might want to. Because, by the second or third time you have to make the choice, you will probably be ready to make a bolder choice. But hey, experience doesn’t come cheap.
The second option is to drown. That isn’t really an active option, because no one willingly drowns, but if you keep treading water for long enough or if a shark came along, it was definitely a possibility. By continuing to not act, you continually increase the probability that you won’t make it to any shore, so it becomes the default option. You could take drowning to mean suicide, or the inability to find a job, or whatever you want to make of it. But, in general, drowning isn’t really a pleasant option. So I would recommend doing anything possible to avoid drowning, i.e. one of the other two options.
So, the last option is to forget about where you came from and to swim like mad for a point on the approaching bank. It’s important to pick one point, because if you pick too many, you will bounce between them and never get any more. And eventually you will either drown or turn back. But assuming that you can focus hard enough and kick hard enough, hopefully you will make it. At least until the next time when you decide to look back and notice that the shore still isn’t there any more.
Why You Shouldn’t Quit
So, what’s the lesson here? The point when you are feeling lost is precisely the one where you shouldn’t quit. Because you’ve already made a lot more progress than you can imagine. It’s only when you can begin to see the goal that you start to freak out for real (our own self-sabotage is actually our biggest enemy). So you can turn back and give up everything you’ve fought for so far, or you can keep moving towards the unknown. Which won’t be anything like what you are imagining, but I’m sure that in the end it will be a lot more satisfying that where you came from. But the choice is yours.