When I was 21 I quit school, stashed everything I owned in a storage unit and traveled around the U.S. for 2 years. I started with a "thumb up" on the shoulder of highways making my way to California. A slight detour to Arizona turned into a two month stay in a wilderness cabin with no running water. Earning some extra cash while in the mountains, I bought a scooter, named it “Harley” and picked a dear friend up from the Phoenix airport.
We meandered our way up the coastline of California, sleeping on beaches in a $20 Walmart tent. Quickly I discovered I was less than ill-equipped with my raincoat made from garbage bags. The scooter lit on fire once, and so did my hair. A couple wrong turns took us into Compton, on the Los Angeles Interstate and through the longest desert stretch in America. Nevertheless we held our grins.
After 4 months I returned to my hometown with news that the world is a pretty damn good place. Sharing the tales and troubles with friends and family, I lasted merely a few weeks before I was back at the drawing board. My obsession with adventure proliferated. I covered my walls with maps and pictures of places to head next. As winter crept in my travel companion and I headed down south for the winter, living in an old station wagon.
It’s been almost 7 years since I took that first leap into something unconventional by societal standards, and I have not regretted it for an instant. Today, the plans drawn up on my wall are bigger than ever. Each adventure must scare the hell out of me, otherwise I might as well just throw on the television and order my coffin. Life is too temporary to utter, “I wish I would have.”
Since returning from Europe this year, I’ve set new goals and drawn new plans. While saving for the next 2 years, I’ve decided to finish my undergrad while I’m planted in home soil. Someday I will appreciate having my degree and reaping some employment security. I’ve learned to hook myself up in the future.
I had no intention to ever quit college - it happened rather spontaneously. All of these life experiences have taught me some of the most valuable lessons: The first being I have not planned most of the great things in my life. And the best parts of it thus far have been the unexpected detours.
The best part of every trip has been on the way to where I thought I wanted to be. In the quest of my destination, something has always pulled me off the main route. In our lives, traveling or not, there are always crossroads we encounter. We are presented with choices to hop off the grooved path and take a chance on something unplanned. While I have regretted a few, like letting people from Craigslist live in my basement, I have been delighted by most of them, like being invited to stay in an Irish family’s castle. (Thanks Grace!)
The unexpected detours have been such a valuable metaphor for the navigation of my entire life. Traveling was a detour from my original collegiate path, but now I’ve made it back to the highway to finish it off. Having too much rigidity in plans makes it impossible to allow unforeseeable surprises. If my life went as planned from high school, I would have sold myself short.
I’ve got my share of goals and a 10 year plan (sort of). It serves the purpose of having a direction to head. Having no direction is utterly dangerous because then I find myself wasting time. When I start to move in some direction, even if I’m not sure, things start to fall into place. I find great Zen in wandering the path loosely.
There is no guaranteed manual to life. So as I stumble along, making mistakes like everyone else, I try to remind myself that I cannot win life. No matter what I do or which wrong turns I take, I always cherish sharing laughs and love with those around me. Enjoyment in life hasn’t derived from avoiding detours but rather including them as part of the journey.
A great mentor of mine told me, “make sure you plan your life in pencil, and have a big eraser handy.”