Let’s celebrate indecision. Meandering career paths. Confused life choices. Reckless changes. Living without clear goals or plans. Wasted hours, chewed nails, panicky phone calls. Dropping out, quitting, breaking up. Let’s celebrate not having a clue, a 10-year plan or a trajectory.
Let’s stop only celebrating the good parts, the success, the heroic achievement. Can we just recognize the fact that having no idea what you are doing is normal, not a sign of laziness/lack of ambition? Let’s acknowledge that sometimes success is making money, getting a good job, stable relationships, starting a business, writing a book. Sometimes success is lasting the day without crying, managing to do laundry and calling up someone who can make you smile.
The thing is, I thought I had a plan. Then I dropped out of university after one semester and the plan melted away. Without the structure and defined future studying had given me for 12 years, the bottom dropped out of my worldview. Infinite options appeared and I was freaked out. Outside of education, there were no timetables, mandatory modules or target grades. Just a strange sort of emptiness. An empty diary, empty pages to fill, an empty idea bank.
I started traveling, buying my tickets on whims and wandering strange cities, looking for inspiration. I went to Paris, Chaville, Versailles, Verona, Venice and Berlin. As hard as I tried not to succumb to the idea of travel being about ‘finding yourself’, it was hard not to look for some sign as to where I should direct my future. I tried to imagine myself living in each place I visited and came up short. It was fun and I learned a lot, yet part of me was still trying to avoid making decisions about the future.
But in the weeks and months since then, I have learned to embrace an unstructured way of life. There is no longer any real point in planning more than a couple of days ahead. And it’s scary. It’s scary to have so many options. It’s scary to not have my time planned out in my calendar weeks ahead. A few questions taunt me every night. Where am I going to live? How can I be sure I will have enough work? Am I wasting my time? The options float around. Move to Tel Aviv. Or Paris. Or Berlin. Or Italy. Get a dog. Move out of my mum’s house and find a flat in my hometown (which I sort of hate.) Take a regular job.
I have a few very tenuous ideas for the future. I know I want to finish and publish the book I am working on within the next five years or so. I know that my dream is to one day retire to a farm somewhere remote and keep goats and other rescued animals. I know that doing anything other than writing as my career would send me insane. Yet those dreams do not (and never will be a single, fixed point to work towards.) Instead, I find purpose in the pursuit of being a little bit better each day. That’s it. Learning a little more, writing a little better, doing a little better at the gym, being a little nicer to people, being a little happier. That is the only purpose I have found so far. I’ll let you know if I figure out something else.
Most of us go to great lengths to try and figure out a path for the future, a conception of purpose. We travel, we go to festivals, we drop acid, we run marathons, we go on meditation retreats. We consult therapists, psychics, numerologists, career coaches, preachers, hypnotherapists, palm readers, fortune tellers, random people on forums. Universities are full of people who are just putting off dealing with real life for a few more years.
Not that there is something intrinsically wrong with that, but because it’s pointless. Plans are great – when they work out. Most of the time they don’t. Living without a clear purpose somehow feels more meaningful. Ironic, isn’t it? Making plans fails to account for the opportunities and disasters which arise along the way. I thought I would keep traveling for the rest of this year. Then two horrible things happened at once (which I have written about here) and I had to return to England where I will probably be for the next few months. Now, everything is too uncertain for there to be any point in making plans.
Conor Oberst has a beautiful line in one of his songs: all that you keep is the journey, all that you keep are the spaces in between. In another song, he refers to this process as zigzagging towards the light. I love that image. I am learning that life is all about the spaces in between.
When I think of the few months I spent traveling, most of the moments I remember most fondly are not the big things, it’s the mistakes, the weird moments. The old man in Versailles who asked me to help him use his phone, then carefully brushed some dust off my bag. The pigeon which sat on my hand for ages in Venice. The time I took the wrong bus in Verona and ended up on a mountain, looking down at the lights of the city below. The cat I met in Cheville who literally jumped into my arms and fell asleep there, purring. Drinking too many mojitos at a bar in Berlin and trying to steal nachos from a couple at the next table. I also remember each journey from place to place. Getting off the train at Venice and crying with happiness. Sitting on the floor of Gard du Nord station, drinking a green smoothie and laughing with elation. The time when the bus taking me across the runway to my flight crashed and the driver kept going as bits of it fell off on the way. Sometimes the journey is the best part.
It’s the same in day to day life. Everything is a meandering process of zigzagging towards the light, getting somewhere and realizing the journey was the best part. Let’s turn to the diaries of Albert Camus to finish off this post:
“Find meaning. Distinguish melancholy from sadness. Go out for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a romantic walk in the park, spring at its most spectacular moment, flowers and smells and outstanding poetical imagery smoothly transferring you into another world. It doesn’t have to be a walk during which you’ll have multiple life epiphanies and discover meanings no other brain ever managed to encounter. Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but ‘steal’ some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.”