A few months ago, after someone told me I had a resting bitch face, I met up with my friends and started ranting to them in the way I usually do. “Why didn’t any of you guys tell me?” I lamented. “How have I been walking around for 23 years with the same terrible expression and no one bothered to let me know?”
My friends were used to my dramatics by then. Most of them liked to play along and feed into my mania — I’ve been told my reactions can be pretty comical. But this time, one of them gave me a look like I was absolutely crazy. “Who told you that?”
When I told him the story, he just shook his head. “You don’t look like a bitch,” he said, then paused, as if looking for the right words. “You just always look… lost, I guess.”
If I’m being totally honest here, his answer pissed me off more than the whole resting bitch face comment, though I didn’t tell him that. Are you telling me that after years of perfecting my put-together facade, it’s obvious how fucking lost I am? After years of working my ass off trying to prove that I can make something of myself, it’s obvious I actually have no idea how to?
But, well, he wasn’t wrong.
I’m like that terrible character in a young adult novel who goes on last-minute adventures and takes the big risk and spends all her time “working” on herself. Seriously, I’m not kidding. After my first huge heartbreak, I pulled an Eat Pray Love and went to study in Italy for a summer. I ate great food and kindled whimsy romances and saw some of the most beautiful sites in the world. I liked to believe I came home “new.” I told everyone my journey had fixed me and left out the fact that only a few months after I returned, I texted my ex again and restarted my terrible drinking habit and stopped doing my assignments.
I’d like to think this is an example of life imitating art. I grew up reading books about young women who spent the whole story “finding” themselves, only to finally feel whole by the end. They left the country, they met new people, they tried new things, they let go of their cares and their responsibilities, and then they came back changed. New, as if there were someone entirely different buried deep inside them and they just needed to claw her out. I followed the trope like a set of instructions hoping that I’d finally figure out the person I was supposed to be.
But here’s the cold, hard truth: I’ve done everything in the book and I still have no idea what the fuck I’m supposed to have found. I backpacked across Europe, I spontaneously moved to a new city, I cut out toxic relationships, I forgave people for things I haven’t quite forgotten. Has it changed me? Yeah, sure, of course — you can’t go through a huge life event unscathed. Every time I’ve finished another big adventure, I really do feel at peace with myself for a little bit. But has it fixed me? Well, fuck.
We love the idea that we have this specific purpose on Earth and we just have to find it. It makes feeling lost so much less scary because we know there’s a way to overcome it. We tell ourselves that at the end of our journey, everything will make sense, except in reality you get there and wonder where the hell you’re supposed to go next, because there’s not an instruction manual for what comes after “The End.” Sometimes you just get lost all over again.
I’m 23 and I still don’t know what I’m doing. I know that’s young in the grand scheme of things, but it’s older than every protagonist I’ve ever read about who’s found herself while soul-searching (you know, minus the whole Eat Pray Love thing). I don’t know where the future’s going to take me and I don’t have any more of an inherent understanding of myself than I did before I started on the path to self-enlightenment. I’m still lost, and if what my friend said means anything, it’s pretty obvious — except, maybe, to people who look at my life from a distance. But doesn’t everything seem prettier from far away? Like in a Seurat painting, the closer you get, the more you realize that the big picture is just a collection of unconnected dots. Maybe that’s all any of us really are.
I’m starting to suspect this whole “finding yourself” thing is just bullshit they push on you to make money or to try to make you feel better or because they honestly believe that’s how it’s supposed to work. And maybe in hindsight it will seem that way — maybe we’ll look back on our lives and remember those things we did and attribute all our successes to those moments where we took a chance and forget the fact that maybe even success didn’t make us feel like we had everything figured out. Maybe we just forget about all the other little things in between — they seem so insignificant in comparison.
But for now, I’m still running around trying to follow winding paths in an attempt to get to the place where I feel found, even though I’m pretty sure there’s no map that will ever take me there. But you know what? The more comfortable I become with that, the less afraid I am of the great unknown. I may not feel fixed, and maybe no amount of soul-searching will ever change that, but I’m still learning, and I’m still growing, and I’m still experiencing some of the most amazing things. Maybe being lost isn’t as bad as I’ve always made it out to be.