We’ve been waiting for this moment for years – either dreading it, earnestly anticipating it, or some combination of the two – to finally experience the freedom and responsibility that comes from being on our own, from being in charge of our own lives.
But there exists this strange incongruence – we’re acting older, we’re performing adult activities – we have a job, we pay our taxes, we floss everyday – but we don’t feel older. Just because we’ve graduated from college and have a job doesn’t mean we’ve grown up. In fact, a lot of the time we even feel more helpless, even more lost.
All of the sudden, the support structures that we counted on, the people that swore would always be there and that we swore we’d always be there for – they’re moving on, getting married or moving away. All the sudden we’re faced with the stark reality of the debt we’ve accumulated in college.
But simultaneously we feel the excitement, the potential for a whole new life. It almost feels like puberty all over again – the pressures, the changes; it’s an incredibly awkward phase.
We’re essentially in a transition. A transition out of an old way of being and into a new one, and the difficult part is that there’s no easy answer to growing up. Certain things can help, but no one hands us a manual with the rules for life (if you do get your hands on one though, please burn after reading).
Despite our new found freedom, it feels as if so much is expected, that so much has to be left behind. It can feel as if so many expectations and responsibilities are seemingly thrust upon us and we have to somehow figure it all out.
Growing up can feel like we’re either standing at the precipice of this cliff that is adulthood or we’ve just been unceremoniously pushed off of it.
But as Kurt Vonnegut once said in one of his commencement addresses, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
This time of transition, when our wings are nascent and not fully fledged, can put our hearts in our mouths. We are literally forced out of our comfort zone whether we like it or not. Some go willingly, some go kicking and screaming.
But therein lies our initiation. One by one, the crutches disappear from underneath us – all the ways which we’ve been dependent – and we have to find new and creative ways to balance out our lives until suddenly we realize that there are no more crutches supporting us – it’s only us, standing on our own two feet.
This is called being left to the wilderness – being abruptly cast out into life, being asked to survive with nothing more than our own intelligence and grit.
But the wilderness is our proving ground, it’s our opportunity. It’s where we truly encounter ourselves and find out who we really are. That’s why it can seem scary and wrought with anxiety and uncertainty, because what we were leaning on to support us before isn’t there anymore.
The wilderness is where we can finally afford to let go of the non-essential. This is the bittersweet beauty of growing up: we’re finally willing to be alone, to let certain things and people go that aren’t in our best interest. We’re ready to stop forcing things that simply aren’t meant to be. We realize there’s nothing wrong if some our best friends and loved ones aren’t on the same path as we are.
We’re finally coming into our own. And despite our hesitation and our doubts, we’re lucky to be here, in the wild. Because human beings are stubborn. We only grow up when we’re in environments and circumstances that force us to grow up.
Growing up doesn’t mean what we’ve been taught that it means – the tacit understanding that we’re supposed to adopt a countenance of generalized malaise and discontent that is practically an epidemic in our culture. You know: the frustration, the “Mondays”, the “can’t wait until Fridays”.
Growing up simply means we’re willing to step up to the plate. We’re ready to embrace the fear of not knowing. We’re willing to get comfortable being uncomfortable and to embrace this opportunity for what it is: a chance to grow, a chance to learn more about ourselves.
The fear that we feel – it’s actually our invitation. It’s our calling to leave the familiar for the unknown and to not look back.
To avoid the wilderness is to avoid life, and it’s impossible to avoid life; it will always find a way of casting us back into the wilderness, sometimes asking us – but usually demanding us – to bring more forth from ourselves, to constantly adapt.
The wilderness is full of possibility – it’s where great ideas are born, it’s where leaders are made. It’s where we forge our character; where we learn to find our way out of no-way. It’s where we have contact with that deep reservoir of resolve and creativity that usually we only have access to when we have no other choice, no other options left.
Sometimes we have to feel lost, like we don’t have the faintest idea of where we’re going or what we’re doing. It takes courage to let ourselves feel lost, it takes even more courage to begin to find our way in the dark.
The wilderness might seem scary, but it’s the best place to be. It’s where we find out what we’re made of. When you find yourself there, don’t flinch. The wilderness is where the magic happens