The Wanderer’s Advantage

Not all who wander are lost.  
- J.R.R. Tolkien

This is by far my favorite quote, and I’ll tell you why. I have no sense of direction. I mean really, none at all. I frequently exit a building I’ve just entered an hour before and have no recollection what side of the street I’m on, and which way to turn to get back to my subway. It is not unusual for me to race out of my office to get somewhere and realize minutes into the trip that I don’t actually know where I’m going. My poor sister has probably borne the brunt of my lack of direction more than anyone. She has suffered through hours of me driving her around lost while we were teenagers. (Those traffic circles in Washington, D.C., are particularly punishing for people like me.)

And then there was the time I somehow turned up at the wrong airport on Christmas Eve. No one I am related to will let me live that one down. Ever.

Photo by Philipp Lublasser

Photo by Philipp Lublasser

A few years ago, I decided to practice the type of self-forgiveness I encourage my coaching clients and Tide Risers to practice, and I stopped berating myself for having no sense of direction. I decided instead to adopt the mantle of a Wanderer. I thus reframed by inability to maintain some sense of where I should be going and how I should get there, and I started actively appreciating the benefits of my wandering ways.

I have, after all, had some really fun adventures that have been born of wandering aimlessly in foreign cities. I spent a good bit of time in my youth traveling with no direction across Europe. There’s a lot more to experience when you have no itinerary and no agenda. I’ve done a fair bit of wandering in national parks and other forested areas as well, which I partly credit with being the reason I’ve had the privilege of seeing so many bears in the wild.

Now I’m at a point where the wandering spirit has transcended beyond just navigating my way around cities and forests; it's become a way of life. I've actively wandered through my career, following my true passions rather than what would traditionally be considered a “good” career path (read my blog about being a Serial Interloper). I’ve wandered — albeit with a sense of purpose — through real estate transactions, volunteerism, and even education. I’m lucky to even have found a university early on that perfectly suited my wandering ways: the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU provided the academic challenge and the freedom desired by wanderers like me.

Certainly, I have to compensate for this lack of direction in much of my daily life. I can't wander aimlessly around Brooklyn with two little kids and an energetic hound dog and expect everything to turn out OK. As far as being an entrepreneur goes, I can’t wander through my tangled schedule of meetings, conference calls, and deliverables. So, I’ve developed structures and habits that keep me in line when I need to be, but I jettison them whenever possible.

I have enjoyed and grown from the benefits of choosing a path not because it seems like it's the right way, but because it has called to me. So no, I am not lost; I am a simply, and ever so nobly, a Wanderer.

Wish me luck in the coming week — or rather, wish my family luck. I’ll be hiking the Appalachian Trail with my father, husband, cousin, and my father’s cousin. We’re fulfilling my father’s long-term wish to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail within Shenandoah National Park. Since we don’t have the time to do it all at once, we’re breaking it into multiple trips over several years. This summer will be the second leg of our journey, and you’ll certainly be hearing more from me about it soon. That is, if we don’t get too hopelessly lost.

Are you a Wanderer? Tell me all about it in the comments below!