Sean Swaby found himself when he was lost in New York City.
What I learned by getting lost
On a summer vacation in 1986, some friends and I visited New York City. I can’t remember how it happened, but somehow I became separated from my group. In a matter of minutes the Big Apple took a bite out of my confidence. I was all alone, I had no money and no cell phone. I panicked.
I considered sneaking onto a bus or begging for money. Those ideas may have worked, but I decided to use two of my other assets: my brain and my feet. I walked for hours and eventually I forgot that I was supposed to be afraid. When I found the address, my friends were shocked that I was able to find my way back on my own.
That day being lost was profound. I may have gotten lost, but I found some things: the confidence to travel, greater trust in myself, being better prepared (carry a map and have some money) and always knowing how to find my way back home.
Lost and Profound: Without lost we will not know how to find
In many countries, a person becomes an adult after getting permission from the calendar. Sounds stupid when you say it that way: you become an adult when the calendar tells you that you are 18 years old (Read this for an interesting take on the Age of Majority).
Some cultures have rituals that define when youth is “of age.” The rituals often involve a journey or a difficult passage. The journey demands that the youth experience lostness in order for them to to complete a task. They will feel lost in their emotions, in their soul and in their confidence. Only in losing themselves will they find who they are.
Only when we are lost will we find the vision and the strength that we need to make our way home. Maybe getting lost and finding our way home is a better way to decide when a person becomes an adult?
Five things we learn when we are lost
Getting lost while travelling and lost on our way to adulthood are only two ways of being lost. There are many other paths to lost: Losing ourselves in a relationship, losing our passion for a career (or a craft), losing our memory, losing our health and losing our motivation.
Sorry kids, this is where you need to turn the GPS off because getting lost is how we find ourselves.
1.You will learn to trust yourself and your sense of direction. Today we have a GPS in our cars, our cell phones and even on our bodies… but we still get lost. All these devices do is make us trust technology when we should trust ourselves.
-For a week, turn off your GPS and use a paper map. (If you can’t do it for a week, try it for a day). The act of having to figure out your direction or even ask for directions will build trust that you can figure it out, even if that means asking someone for help. (By the way, that’s kinda the point).
2. You will be more creative. Or as only U2 can say it, you will “Tinker with a Moment of Uncertainty” (Unknown Caller). You and I feel a little lost when we look at a blank page, a blank canvas, an untaught course or an untried venture. Writing, painting, teaching and developing are creative efforts that usually begin with only an idea. It takes trust, courage and experimentalism to take any idea (an idea-doodle) turn into a sketch, then into a complete picture and then to make it come to life.
-For a week, take a sketchpad with you wherever you go. Your assignment is to doodle whenever you have some downtime (conference call, meetings, during a break, waiting in line, on the bus).
-Don’t worry if it ends up looking like a mess. Suspend your judgment. Doodles are not supposed to look like anything. They are doodles, not works of art.
-Doodling is a way that your mind can get lost. With your rational mind in neutral, other parts of your mind begin to find their gears. Another use of the pad is to write ideas that come when you are not thinking about your problems.
3. You will have a new perspective on your life. James Altucher (Choose Yourself) recommends that we develop 10 ideas a day as a way to give our brains a workout.
-A different take on the 10 ideas is to add in some doodles in the mix, ripping pictures that mean something from your magazines, or taking photos that capture your ideas.
-However you do it, generating ideas is like tiny experiments. You don’t have to act on each idea because at first your ideas will probably stink. Keep at it and the quality of your ideas will improve. For example, If you want to create unique products for single mothers who work two jobs and are exhausted, write down 10 ideas about that from different angles. If you are speaking at a business meeting, write down 10 ideas about ways to engage your audience.
4. You will learn to listen a little better. Feeling lost will make you more receptive. You will need to ask for help, cling for hope and test your limits. Often the turning point happens when we stop, listen and reflect. Reflection and listening to ourselves can be a turning point.
-Go for coffee and write down your own lessons you have learned from feeling lost. It could be that you practice asking for help, or you learn more about your physical/emotional/or spiritual limits, or you are reclaimed your self care. Or it may be that right now, you have no lessons. Listening and acceptance may be where you need to be for a while.
-The act of regular reflection will make you more receptive.
5. You will find something. Getting lost may not leave you with much, except a good story and a new memory. Most people are dying for a good story.
-Think back to a skill or a hobby that you used to do but you just don’t have time for. Brush it off and reclaim it. For me, it is painting. I used to do it all of the time but now I have to make time for it. It can take a while to create a larger canvas, so I sometimes experiment with abstracts or really tiny canvases.
-Rewatch your favorite movie and ask yourself why you love the story. Now, maybe it is time for a new story or a new adventure.
Getting lost can be profound. If you are feeling lost, try not to be in such a hurry to get out. Maybe you have some things to learn or some growing up to do? Maybe you need a time away from your other stressful demands? Getting lost may help you to find yourself.
I’d love to hear about your stories of what you have learned by getting lost! See me in the comments.
For more personal blog posts, follow me at SMSwaby.
Keep it Real