While I happen to be a gardener, sowing wild oats was something I have never done.
This is the result of living in the same city for all of my life and rarely, if ever, taking a trip outside of it. Now in my mid-thirties I can look at my friends who did spend time away learning about themselves and the world, and can see the difference between myself and them.
To start off I know many of you out there are going to look at this article thinking it pertains to sleeping with as many women as possible. This is not the case. Instead I will be talking about the lost tradition of the Walkabout. Until the twentieth century many cultures had various versions of this ritual transforming a boy into a man. While our culture has simplified it to the point of High school graduation or surviving boot camp, in the military, the transformation into adulthood has been watered down to the point where the general public remains mentally a child. For myself, I didn’t see a difference between graduating high school and going to work fulltime, which I was already doing my last two years of high school. While I went into the workforce other people I know took a different route.
The last weeks of high school bring back memories of my friends planning a trip around Lake Michigan. This would be their last hurrah before they went their separate ways. During spring break these three young men mapped out their path up north over the Mackinac Bridge, through the upper peninsula of Michigan, down through Wisconsin, a stop in Chicago, then finally back home. A week long adventure for a couple of seventeen to eighteen-year-old men. I, on the other hand, worked through that week and to this day have little of anything to show for it.
Later in college I met a man I am still friends with today. Derek spent a good portion of the 1990s living in Canada traveling around in a van. He would take odd jobs, saving up money for gas and food, then drive into the mountain range where he would park the van and hike for weeks, camping and living off the land. Growing up in rural Bangor, Michigan spending weekends in the woods was nothing new for him. Derek traveled where he wanted and spent his time how he wanted. This type of freedom I am not familiar with, and doubt I will ever experience. During those years in college Derek would share stories of those trips in the mountains sometimes showing scars and the tale behind it. Currently, Derek works in the same profession I am in, however the life experience is vastly different.
Much like Derek another friend of mine shared a similar experience traveling around the country in a truck converted into a camper. Joe built a frame for the bed of the truck to support a mattress for himself and his German Sheppard. As he described his trip “going where I want, waking up when I want, eating when I want. I’ll never forget that freedom.”
The biggest difference between me and these guys that I have noticed over time is the independence and self-confidence they have. In high school I never would have been able to talk myself into taking a trip like the one around Lake Michigan. In college there was so much pressure and stress between school and bills taking a trip anywhere was a fantasy I never considered. I always had a feeling of being stuck.
Recently, I had to take a trip to Seattle, Washington for a writing/ consulting job. This was the first time that I ever traveled anywhere alone, and on an airplane. I found myself constantly talking myself through things. At one point I was asking myself “what if this is all one cruel joke and there will be nobody there to pick me up?” The level of confidence to make such a simple trip I still do not have at my age. I made it through the trip and everything went smoothly, but my lack of independence is a burden when it comes to being successful in life. There are milestones and events in a young man’s life that I never experienced and I will never be able to. Even if I tried to relive those events now it would not have the same effect as it would, if I had experienced it through the eyes of my younger self.
Along with the experience of learning confidence building independence comes another benefit with these trips, the stories. How somebody spent their teenage years or their twenties will change the outlook they have on their life later on. I look back and see small paychecks and years, literally years, gone. I have a few stories, but nothing compared to the tales of these men. To be able to look back and be proud of things one has accomplished has the ability to change one’s life for the better decades later. Learning to trust one’s instincts, to go after what one wants, and have the confidence to do so, is not something learned in a college course. Life is something that cannot be taught, it can only be experienced.
The one thing that separates myself from these men is the level of regret I feel for not doing what they had done and that is something I can never change.
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