Why feeling lost is the same as finding your way

September 1, 2010

I like to keep this blog upbeat. Optimistic. Positive.

But the truth is, I feel lost. I’ve got a lot of great things going for me — I know that. I’ve got my book. My new business. A life of exciting things ahead.

Anyone else feel lost? (From simplesilhouette on Flickr's Creative Commons.)

But I don’t know where I’m going — both literally and figuratively — and that has me on edge. I don’t know where I want to move; D.C. is still a possibility, but not necessary now that I’m open to non-journalism jobs. I don’t know what job I want; while I’m loving my new social media business, I miss the stability of a full-time job.

In short, I don’t know what I want.

Journalism has been the driving force in my life since college. It’s always determined where I’d live and what I’d do. I loved journalism, which made those choices easy.

But I’m realizing now that journalism might not be in my future. The reason is complicated, having to do with the state of the industry, and is worth saving for another post. But the point is, without this driving force, I feel lost. As much as I love writing my book, as much as I love building my client base for Socialexis, I still feel like I’m lacking direction.

Here’s what I do know: I need to move out on my own. It’s been great living with my parents while writing my book, but I’m antsy to get into my own place. And so I ask myself, what’s the fastest way to meet that goal? Not building a business. Not hoping I’ll make money off my book. No, the fastest way to have enough money to move out is to get a full-time job. But where? What’s the point of getting a full-time job to pay for a place when I don’t know where I want that place to be?

There’s one more piece of this equation, and that’s something I’ve always known I’ve wanted: a family. For the last few years, I haven’t felt ready for that. Good thing, since I don’t have anyone to have a family with. But now that I’m watching my close friends get married and have kids, I’m realizing that I do want that. Soon. And it ain’t gonna happen if I’m living in my parents’ house.

So I ask myself the same question I’d ask you if you told me you felt lost. If I could do anything I wanted at this very moment, what would it be?

I think I’d hike the Appalachian Trail — and write a book about it. Then why aren’t I doing that? Because I’ve got to refill my bank account first. That’s the same reason I haven’t moved out on my own. Life choices, unfortunately, often come down to money. And I spent all of mine traveling in Africa.

So I want to hike the AT. At the same time, if the right job came around tomorrow in, say, New York City, I’d take it. Which is the story of my life right now. A zillion choices and a zillion things I could do. I could go in any direction.

I’m so lucky to have that freedom, the chance to choose any direction. I realize that. But freedom can also be scary. This is only the second time in my life that I don’t know what I want. (The first was while traveling — but at that point in my life, it felt more freeing than intimidating.) And I don’t like not knowing.

This is not something I’d normally share with the world. Actually, sharing with the world, with Internet friends, isn’t the hard part — it’s knowing that people who read this blog will look me in the eye later today and say, “I saw your post about feeling lost,” and then expect me to talk about it. It’s easier for me to write about how I feel than to talk about it.

But since I’m trying really hard in my memoir to be soul-baringly honest, I figure this blog can serve as practice. So I’m soul-baring. I don’t feel very comfortable with it, but I’m doing it.

Plus, one of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, has been writing lately about being lost, and she helped me realize it’s okay to not know where I’m going. She brought up a good point: that there’s beauty in being lost, even if you have to look hard to see it. For me, I know the beauty is that feeling lost brings out the creativity in me, brings out my potential. I believe, for both me and all of you, that being lost usually means something great is around the corner. Because being lost also means you’re finding your way.

When I read those two posts from Penelope, I thought to myself, that woman is crazy. Crazy, crazy.

And now, I realize, you’re probably thinking the same thing about me.

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    38 Replies to “Why feeling lost is the same as finding your way”

    • Karen Walker says:

      HI Alexis,
      Bravo for baring your soul here on your blog. One of my favorite spiritual books was one called “The Cloud of Unknowing.” As uncomfortable as it is to not know, especially for someone so clearly in charge and self-directed, it can be a very good thing to open yourself up to whatever the universe has in store for you. Things you might never have thought of will suddenly appear as possibilities. I’d like to send you a copy of my memoir, Alexis. It just might help a wee bit. If you’re interested, send me an email with your snail mail address.

    • Heather Rae says:

      I don’t think you’re crazy, Alexis. Actually, I think I really needed to read your post right now. Because I’m feeling lost, too. It’s nice to know I’m in good company. And I get what you mean about the hard part about baring your soul on the blog isn’t so much releasing your thoughts to the internet but the reaction you get in person from the people who say, “I read your blog post today…” Thanks for sharing this.

    • I can really relate, Lexi. For me, I have my own (sorta) consulting business, a new baby girl and a fantastic husband. Yet I keep thinking I’m missing something. There might indeed be something missing, but I’ve often thought that the idea of the “zillion choices and zillion things” is what makes me feel lost – like I’m not doing the “best” thing out there for me. I think many of us are often overwhelmed by the possible, and it paralyzes us into inaction. I’ve tried to realize that what I’ve got going on is, in fact, one of those “zillion” things, and that living in the moment and being passionate about what I enjoy is what will help me find my way. It’s trite, but I try to remember that the joy really is in the journey. A thought: could you somehow get funded to hike the AT? Or a job as a ranger on the Trail? You could also volunteer in a US national park: http://nps.gov/gettinginvolved.

    • Karen Walker says:

      Alexis, there will be a little something for you on my blog on Friday.

    • Andi says:

      I love your honesty in this post! You know what, feeling lost can actually be fun, because that means you can go in ANY direction you want!!!!!! Think about all of the possibilities. Btw, if you do hike the AT, stop by Charlotte along the way and I’ll buy you a meal. 🙂

    • Lisa E says:

      Great blog post, which really resonated with me. I feel overwhelmed by options/freedom sometimes. At the same time, there are things I might want that are a little more commitment-oriented (eg, a house)….yet my money has also gone to travel (no regrets, of course).

      I think being lost can lead to tremendous inspiration via creativity, etc. And I think that, when you’re open to what’s out there (as you seem to be), it will all come together somehow. Good luck!

    • Peggy Frezon says:

      It’s always exciting and anxiety-producing to have so many options yet not know exactly where you’re going. The good thing is, you have excellent goals and objectives. I know you’re not only open to new possibilities, but also actively seeking them. So keep doing what you’re doing. The job market is tough right now. My daughter’s friend graduated from Cornell in bio engineering…80 in her major…only 2 found jobs. But every ‘no’ will bring you that much closer to the ‘yes’ that is the job meant for you!

    • Oh, I hear this, Alexis. I just moved to a new city, and am trying to find a full-time job, learn my way around, make new friends and also find time for my own writing. I don’t really know what I want, job-wise or writing-wise, and that makes it difficult. So I don’t think you’re crazy at all. And I hope both of us continue to find our way.

    • It is so brave of you for sharing your feelings. Writing them down can really help! I agree that there is a beauty in being lost. It can really point out things you never realized about yourself, especially strength and creativity.

      I was experiencing the “lost” feeling quite a bit lately. I realized that I needed to focus on my writing again. I want to become published so I started a writer’s group. I am working on a critique for a conference. I want to apply for a grant. Those goals give me so much hope.

      I also re-evaluated some of the things I want in my life, such as children. My husband and I both decided that we could take more time (despite what everyone else says). Things might turn out as we always expect, but what we don’t expect can be amazing.

      Thanks for sharing. I am looking forward to seeing the amazing things you do in the future!

    • This could be a very good place for you, Alexis, if you stay aware, open to possibilities, and ready to try something new. I sympathize with your desire to hike the AT. I had that on my bucket list for years, but finally realized it wasn’t going to happen. However, at the age of 58, I took a solo journey to Norway to learn more about my grandfather’s background. It was a delightful alternative, as it turned out.

    • Lanham True says:

      What I find refreshing about your post is how you don’t pussyfoot around the money part. So often we speak in fluffy ways about “choices” & “growth,” etc. It’s not that these aren’t valid concepts, but they can be awfully abstract, when money is not. (At least not the rent-food-health care kind of money.) Having spent much of my adult life thus far living either far, far below or slightly above the federal poverty guidelines, I’ve come to think of money as a very firm boundary, akin to the rules for writing haiku, sonnets or query letters. Find that sweet spot of freedom within those boundaries. Or tear up the page & start over. You have a safety net — your supportive family & social network, native intelligence & ambition, etc. — that others may lack. Thank you such a heartfelt & realistic post.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Such an important point, Lanham — Thanks for making it. I’m a big believer of being proactive to make your dreams happen, but it’s so true that there’s always a money component to the equation, and sometimes it plays a bigger role than we’d like it to.

        “Find that sweet spot of freedom within those boundaries” — I LOVE that!

    • Brent Winter says:

      I feel your pain, sister, as I’m sure all of us do. I used to think that feeling lost was something I would grow out of one day. And it *has* become less common, but it still pops up much more often than I’d like. Such an uncomfortable feeling. So now my default coping mechanism for feeling lost is simply to write. (Ahem, my default *functional and sustainable* coping mechanism. I also have many dysfunctional, unsustainable coping mechanisms, which we will not discuss here.) Writing doesn’t always make me feel better, but I can say this: it always makes me feel less lost. Good luck!

    • Emma says:

      I hear you. I have felt this way, and many of my friends — especially the journalists — have too. But being in between and not knowing what’s next means you will be open to pursue the right opportunity when it comes along. I am much happier in my current job after a period of feeling lost, and my friend who lost his job earlier this summer just got a much better gig (working in the city’s inpsector general’s office to “combat clout in city business”). And while you’re figuring out what’s next, your blog continues to be a source of inspiration for many!

      • I agree with Emma. Journalism, and a handful of other professions like academia, once had a very clear blueprint. Pretty much all journalists I know feel (at the very least) a bit conflicted right now — looking over their shoulder or out the window, whereas before, the only way to look was straight ahead. How can they not? One thing I do in times like this is read biographies (it doesn’t have to be books, I’m talking Wiki pages) of successful people who are at least 55 years old. All of them have gaps or took detours in their path, maybe due to a bad job or a firing or a family drama, but when you look at the whole story of their life, those months or years of uncertainty are just a footnote.

    • Joanna Penn says:

      Hi Alexis,
      I’ve been thinking about doing a post for the love of Moleskine journals because they are a catalog of being lost over the years! We all feel this way at times and it’s absolutely ok. I write a lot when I feel like this.
      I also think of life like skiing, where you zigzag down a slope without necessarily knowing if this the right way, but you’re heading in the general right direction. The important point here is action. You can only change direction once you’re moving, so take a step and then change course again when you’ve got some movement behind you.
      Thanks, Joanna

    • I don’t think you’re crazy. You’re just asking the age-old questions that everyone asks at some point or another. And as for being lost, you’re not. You’re young and you have every possibility in front of you. What a great place to be!! So much better to be lost than trapped. 🙂

    • alisha says:

      Alexis, thanks for your honesty in this post. Soul baring takes practice but it’s usually worth it. 🙂 As someone who’s often been in transition seasons (I seem to move every 2 years!), having no idea what the next step looks like, I want to encourage you also to enjoy the rawness that comes with the mystery of uncertainty. There is something so precious during these times. I also like how in the midst of all the unknowns, you can still focus on what little you DO know, because often that’s the key to finding whatever’s next. Good luck as you decide your next steps!

    • Jeszlene says:

      I think it’s essential to be lost ever so often, as a writer.

      Can you imagine staying in your comfort zone all the time? What would you blog about? “I’ve 6 months before my next promotion, which means x% increment in pay… Every Sunday I know he’ll be here having the same meal with me, nothing changes here… I’m happy being happy…”

      I think circumstances are a matter of mind set. As many of your comments imply, “getting stuck,” “freedom,” “being lost,” “possibilities,” etc are merely labels, which is dependent on how you choose to view a situation.

      Think of it as starting on a blank canvas, of possibilities, without chains of restrictions… Like planning a road trip, far away, for a long while, seeking adventure, while knowing the possibilities of getting into trouble…

      Stay positive and listen to your heart =)
      All the best~

    • Alyssa says:

      FYI, my mom mentioned this post to me last night. She said that she really loves your site, and was all, “Alexis wrote a really soul-bearing post about feeling lost yesterday. About not knowing where to move or whether to get a full time job and what field to get it in. It was pretty moving.”

      So, at the very least, you have my mom’s support and admiration. 🙂 And she’s pretty cool…

    • Maree says:

      I’m a little late with my comment, but I just wanted to say that just because you’re currently living with your parents doesn’t mean that you can’t date or be with a boyfriend. I think sometimes we’re too attached to what we think life is going to look like i.e. when I’m in my apartment in x glamorous city with x perfect job I’ll meet the guy etc etc. You can meet someone any time and any place. I think the trick is to be open to it and actively seeking it out rather than waiting for whatever set of life events you want in place before it happens.

      But I’m pretty lost too, so take my statements with a grain of salt!

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hey Maree,

        Thanks for the comment. You’re totally right — and I would tell anyone in my situation the same thing. I haven’t actively sought that out here — or much professional interaction, to be honest — because I don’t plan on staying here much longer. I’d really like to be in a place where I see myself for a while before I invest a lot of social effort. But maybe I should re-think that.

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    • Adwoa Jones says:

      Hi Alexis! What a great post and thank you for being so incredibly honest. Wow, I literally felt like you were taking the words out of my mouth. I know it’s been two years since you wrote this and I’m so glad you did because I really needed to read this today and it gave me great comfort to know I’m not crazy crazy crazy 🙂 By the way, I am from Ghana, West Africa… and I would NEVER backpack through Africa. Ha ha! Can’t wait to read your book. It takes a special kind of girl to do it…alone! You are awesome 🙂

    • sportish says:

      I really appreciate this post, Alexis. It’s comforting to know many people feel lost — and when you think about the way our economic system works, emphasizing specialization over rotation of duties within companies, the severe competition, and the obsession with $$$, it’s no wonder. People feel pulled in all kinds of directions but never get around to what actually moves or inspires them. I believe I have been scared to admit what I actually want for fear that it won’t be a direction that will make me solid $$$. I have been lost for years, on and off, and have basically been doing odd jobs for years — a good chunk of them without pay, since I’ve graduated. I graduated at 23, and am now 27, and still have only a handful of seemingly random jobs – legal clerk, several internships, and short contract jobs, brief stints – to show for it. At various points, the recession scared me into not looking for work — it became an exhausting, alienating process.. I haven’t made too much money, though I have been able to live in several cities for about 6 months a piece. I am now lost again, and for years my inkling has been to move to D.C. or New York City — but the issue of my age makes me feel scared to try to start again at a new career path. I know this is kind of silly, because it’s not THAT old, but it keeps creeping on me.. 27..27.. what am I going to do? Will this new place help me find myself again? Is the kind of work I’m seeking what I actually want at all? I unfortunately have allowed months of feeling lost to make me feel even worse, but I feel I have to move forward again somehow.. even if its just a GUESS. I’m overthought, as you can see, deeply reflective and philosophical..and I hope in the end this will help me find fulfillment!

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