Have you ever had the pleasure of reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book? My friends and I loved them when I was little. There was joy in the unpredictability of them. As I grew up, the thrill of surprise lost its appeal. I preferred efficiency, formulas, control. Or so I thought.
Lately, Allegra has been comparing my choices to those of a traveler. One of her favorite analogies is that there are three types of travelers through life, regardless of the path they’re on. One, the Tourist, knows exactly where they are headed, how to get there, and how long it will take. They have an itinerary ready.
The Adventurer, on the other hand, has chosen a destination and knows how to get there, but hasn’t planned much beyond that. Timetables aren’t important to them – they know they’ll get there eventually.
Then there is the Wanderer. They have no idea where they will end up or when, and that’s perfectly fine with them. The joy of travel for them lies in the unknown.
I spent most of my life thinking I should be a Tourist. It seemed like the only way to succeed in life. Everything I read about success and productivity seemed to be telling me that I needed a goal, a plan, a deadline, and the will to work at it every day. Even being an Adventurer sounded better than being a Wanderer. At least Adventurers know what they want to do, where they want to go. I believed there must be something wrong with the Wanderers in life. They spent their time just flitting from one thing to another without any particular goal in mind, no drive to accomplish anything. If they were happy or successful, it must be because they were foolish or lucky. Really, who could live like that?
“Not all those who wander are lost” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
The answer is me. In fact, I’m happiest when I am Wandering. Exploring. Being curious about where I end up when I take this path or that path. Finding out what this road is like, or that one. What has always made that way of life difficult for me is not that it’s the worst of the three approaches to life. It’s not. None of them are. There is no inherent value to how we travel through life, only the value we assign our choices.
No, what has made it difficult for me is simply the belief that I should be on another path. I have never been able to keep my mind on my own path for long, and so I haven’t been able to follow any one path long enough to get anywhere. When I am Wandering, instead of enjoying the journey, I am chastising myself and thinking that I need to cut across to a path with a destination. Or an ETA. Or both. So I get out my tools and I set goals and create a plan and declare, “There! There is where I’m going to go!” Then once I have an itinerary, I look back to the overgrown, unexplored, roads less traveled and I long to be there instead of where I am.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
~ Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
I try to motivate myself to follow the itinerary. I really do. I understand the value of being a Tourist. “Bloom where you’re planted,” I remind myself. “Make the best of it.” And for a while, I can do it. And it works! I move forward, sometimes at a pace that astonishes others. Usually, I’m even mostly happy or at least content when I follow my itinerary. At the very least, I feel like I fit in.
Eventually, though, my wanderlust for life takes over and I go back to moving through life without a destination, without a timeline. Sadly, I’ve never managed to enjoy that for very long either, because I always thought it was the worst way to travel through life. I saw it as the fool’s
journey. The one people look at longingly, wishing they had the nerve to go on while they simultaneously condemn the fool on the road for being lazy, flaky, worthless.
“And may the road less paved be the road that you follow” ~ Jason Mraz, Have it All
It’s been a big deal for me to realize that wanderers and explorers of all kinds are necessary and always will be. They are the ones to find new ways to get from here to there. By taking the lonelier road, the Wanderers are the ones who expand the world for everyone, the ones who forge paths for others to follow.
That doesn’t mean I need to be a creative genius to follow my own path. I don’t need to be a famous innovator and create a new path. I also don’t need to follow a set itinerary or do what everyone else is doing in order to add value to my world. I add value just by mindfully going in whatever direction I choose for as long as I like, and sharing what I find with others.
Because isn’t sharing ourselves with others one of the greatest successes in life?