“Not all who wander are lost.” That single line from a poem by J. R. R. Tolkien graces many a diary, quilted pillow and Pinterest board. I agree, but can’t help but wonder – what of those who are lost?
Whenever we feel a little adrift, people often try to make us feel better with well-meaning advice. But no matter how many times others remind us of how beautiful and unique we are, if we don’t feel that to be true their words will be nothing but empty utterances. You cannot make someone fall in love with themselves – that love has to come from within. When you are lost, you are also the only person who can help you find yourself.
I’m an existentialist. I don’t believe we were put on this planet for any particular reason or that we have a higher purpose to fulfil. I think existence precedes essence – that is, the meaning of your life is not predetermined and you get to choose who you truly are. As Sartre wrote, “man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards.”
The thought that, ultimately, our lives have no given purpose can be terrifying to many people. If our existence is meaningless then… what’s the point? If there is no chosen path then… which way should you walk? And you obviously don’t even have to subscribe to the idea of existentialism in order to feel completely and utterly lost. It is all too easy to go off-track in the maddening maze we call life. When you are just a floating speck of dust in the grand scheme of the universe, it’s easy to feel like you don’t matter at times.
Well, take it from a fellow speck – you do. A lot. That might sound like a contradictory statement, coming from the girl who just waxed lyrical about existentialism. But let me elaborate. Just because you may not have been endowed with a magical prophesy to fulfil at your birth, it doesn’t mean that your life lacks purpose. To the contrary – instead of walking down a highway that was chosen specifically for you, you get to forge your own path.
Travel allows you to get lost in both the proverbial and literal jungle of life. It lets you wade through the mud, drag yourself through thick shrubbery, get stung by venomous creatures and healed by the kindness of strangers. It lets you turn left or right, walk straight or choose the winding road leading you to the top of a tall mountain.
Whenever you are at a crossroads, travel gives you a new chance to decide who you want to be. Travel allows you to keep creating yourself, building yourself up and tearing yourself down whenever necessary. Every step you take is the beginning of a new chapter and every new chapter is an opportunity to become the best you can possibly be.
So, in short, why should all those who are lost wander? Exploring the world presents a much better way to get to know yourself on a deeper level than other forms of self-medication. Trust me – I’ve tried them. Drinking, partying or sleeping your confusion away will only add to it, on top of creating a whole new set of issues for you to deal with.
No matter how small and insignificant, how lost and desperate you might be feeling, know this – you are not alone. While that may not give you the solace you crave, it should serve as a reminder that there will always be people out there who have experienced similar pain and who would be happy to help you deal with it if only you let them.
Cheryl Strayed, the author of a hugely successful memoir called “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”, is one of them. After losing her mother, getting hooked on heroin and divorcing her husband, 26-year-old Cheryl set out alone on a 1,100-mile journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. With no prior backpacking experience and a conscience which weighed more than her large backpack, this was a journey she would never forget.
Cheryl is 46 now and is a perfectly normal married mother-of-two – oh, aside from the fact that there was a film made about her, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, written by Nick Hornby and produced by Reese Witherspoon. Now, who says you can’t turn your life around? This is the trailer for what I believe to be a likely Oscar contender of a movie…
The best part? “Wild” is playing in theatres now. If you’re based in the US or Canada, you can click here to locate screenings near you. Whether you’re currently going through some stuff (and aren’t we all?) or not, this is a film you should definitely not miss – it’s not often that a movie can inspire you to reboot your life.
Do you think travel gives people an opportunity to reinvent themselves? Should all those who are lost wander? Let me know in the comments below or share it on social media using the hashtag #WildMovie!
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Fox Searchlight Pictures. As always, all opinions are my own – both the film and the book are fantastic. If they weren’t I’d never dare recommend them to you!