The importance of wandering

I caught up with a friend on the weekend who, at 34, is bravely setting off on her hero’s journey.

The ‘hero’s journey’, if you didn’t know, is an age-old narrative pattern that surfaces again and again in some of the best stories of all time, from The Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter to The Matrix. It always begins when the hero “leaves home”, or in other words, gets a serious life shakeup.

In my friend’s case, she’s leaving the comfort of the job she’s known for nearly a decade in order to figure out what else she’s made of, with no certainty of what that is and no clear plan for what comes next.

And I’m terrifically excited for her.

I’ve been in her shoes before—numerous times—and while I know it’s terrifying to be on the precipice of that unknown abyss, I also know it means she’s perfectly poised to experience one of life’s fruitful wanders.

A good wander is often the key to unlocking the next, greater version of yourself.

For instance, in the hero’s journey, the hero comes upon challenges and temptations before earning his transformative revelation and going home more enlightened than before. But at no point does that journey follow any “plan” set out by the hero—rather, the hero is forced to adapt to whatever comes, resulting in his inevitable transformation.

And so it must be when your essential life shakeup comes—rather than hang on to your plans and expectations, you must surrender any semblance of knowing what you’re doing for a while, continue to put one foot in front of the other and simply be ready to learn. And if you don’t, well, life has a way of forcing you to its will, and the more you resist the more painful the process.

When I left my coveted position as a radio host and embarked on a five month journey through Southeast Asia, my husband and I had the best intentions to grow—but we made the mistake of thinking we knew how that growth would come. We had grandly planned to produce high quality video blogs of our experiences during the trip, thinking that by growing our accomplishments we would achieve personal growth.

Oh, personal growth came, alright—but only after our spirits were thoroughly broken by our spectacular failure to keep up with the high expectations we set for ourselves. It took being humbled, abandoning our video blogging plans, buying a motorcycle and ambling through the Laos countryside with no productive agenda for our transformation to truly begin.

It took surrendering to the wander.

My friend seems set up to accept her wander gracefully; she has ideas of where to lay her first few steps but an open mind to where that may take her, with the overall aim of letting her best self blossom. While I can see her in a multitude of satisfying career directions at the end of this, there’s no telling just where this journey will take her.

Contrary to what school taught us—that life should follow a structured path with bells and scheduled recesses and confident proclamations of what we want to “be” when we grow up—when it comes to setting off on your journey of self-discovery, there’s limited visibility on the path ahead of you, and that’s a very good thing.

So rather than hang tightly to the modern myth that you can only be happy or successful when you have your life figured out, when the call to wander comes, embrace it with open arms and a confident heart. Your hero’s journey awaits.

Written by Carly Walde