Everything changed when we got on that road. We hovered around 70 mph and rode side-by-side. Kids on the side of the road waved to us, and when we waved back it was as if Superman had shown up to one of their birthday parties. Things got instantly better inside my head and a conversation I had with Jared a little bit later would reveal that he was feeling better too.
We had a turning point that day. Literally everything changed on those back roads. Our pace slowed down a little bit because weren’t desperately racing the clock to get to another exit. We didn’t have mile markers telling us where we were so we didn’t know how far we had to go. We just were where we were. We got to enjoy the ride. That gave way to the most important part: we started talking to more people.
Somewhere in nowhere Nebraska, we made friends with every person in a small convenience store, each one of them offering useful advice about the terrain or the weather or sharing funny stories. Somewhere in South Dakota, I explained to a South African couple why Native Americans live on reservations and how those reservations are beautifully untouched by development in most parts. They were fascinated. Later, in Rapid City, we stopped to talk to some guys at a local motorcycle shop and they handed us a color coded map of all of the amazing twisty rides in the Black Hills.
We stopped for gas and a snack outside of a laundromat/convenience store thing in Illinois or Iowa. We were resting next to our bikes like a couple of bums and figuring out where we could stop for the night. We were situated next to a Redbox and a woman who was renting a video looked at our license plates and struck up a conversation by asking us if we were really from New York. After a little bit of small talk, my project became the topic of conversation.
“Why are you doing all of this, if you had a job and a house and everything?”
I told her I want to teach people how to find something they love and do it right now. I think if we stop coasting, find the courage to get lost and start connecting to life we’d all be better or happier or at least not miserable. I told her I couldn’t go around telling people to do this unless I got off the highway first. As my friend Al says, I’m putting myself in the lab. I’m testing my theory and refining it so I can be confident in it when I broadcast it.
I could have told anyone this and most people would call me a hippie or at least said “good luck with that” before walking off, but this woman’s jaw dropped. She shared with me that she’s been struggling at work for months and all she does is wish for a day three years from now when she can leave.
For the sake of her privacy I won’t go into detail about what she does for work, but we discovered we’re both in the mental health field and both have reason to suspect that the way medication is handed out is unethical and unnecessary. She told me it chips away at her to know that her work is aimed at getting people medicated and she knows that once they’re on the medication they’re worse for it. They wouldn’t take it if they didn’t believe they were crazy or broken and it takes implanting that belief in people to convince them to buy the pills. People have become trained to think they have mental disorders when they’re really just in need of some changes. We don’t understand that though, because clever marketing has convinced us all that we’re crazy.
“My OCD is kicking in.” “My ADD is acting up today.” “The anxiety disorder is flaring up today.”
Try something today. Count how many times someone brings up some sort of mental illness in normal conversation. Add that number up and tell me it doesn’t strike you as kind of weird how many normal people walk around with the belief that there is something wrong with them. It bothers me to know that people take their quirks and call it a dysfunction and then medicate it away. In my mind it’s no different than drinking to get through the day. It’s numbing away any fire that might push us to be our imperfect and potentially great selves.
At that laundromat in the middle of who knows where, everything I’m doing with my life was reaffirmed. That wouldn’t have happened on a road where everyone is too busy getting where they’re going. If I were too busy getting where I was going, I’d never have entered the conversation at all. And it certainly wouldn’t have happened if I called my dissatisfaction “depression” and took a pill for it. I’d be a half-drooling zombie staring at a wall back at home right now. Everything would be “just fine”. I wouldn’t have my fire because that fire is fueled by what a lot of people will call crazy. That stuff isn’t bad. It’s just our humanity needing to be expressed. That’s all.
The last couple of days as we’ve gotten more and more adventurous with the no name roads, I’ve been reaffirmed over and over. As we drove through Nebraska and South Dakota on forgotten back roads, I was moved almost to tears by a part of the country that most people will tell you is flat and boring. Shortly after, we found ourselves on one of those reservations where we banked and rolled through endless pastures while stopping occasionally to make friends with the local horses.
I’m thankful for all of it. Every day, I realize a little bit more about why I’m out here and where this is headed. I just keep thinking about how we’re all telling each other to wake up but how none of us fully grasp what that means. So many of us are sleepwalking. We all think we’re awake but we haven’t scratched the surface. Instead, we’re telling each other that if we don’t do A B and C, we’ll never make it in the “real world”.
In that real world, it is considered weird to like what you do for a living. In that world you need money and that’s just how it is, so shut up and get a job even if you hate it. You’re supposed to hate your job, they’ll say. In the real world we’re all expected to join, 1 in 5 (Americans) are taking psychotropic medication to help them cope with daily life. That real world doesn’t turn or bank and there are no horses there. There is only the next exit and the things we do to keep ourselves just awake and just sedated enough to get there.
I believe we have the opportunity and the responsibility to wake ourselves up from that way of life. It doesn’t have to involve quitting your job and selling your stuff. That’s not what this is about. It just involves evaluating your life and asking yourself if you’re getting what you want. If the answer is no, the best thing you can do is decide not to do it. That’s why I’m writing this. I want to remind you of something that you already know: This life is what you make of it and every single one of us has the power to tap into something incredible right now if we’d only risk taking that first step into the unknown.