It was about a year ago I was taking a writing course and the idea of trusting the writing came up as an approach to writing, like driving a car in the dark. Just get started, set off and even though you can only see as far as the head beams illuminate in front of you, if you keep going long enough you can eventually make it all the way across the country. Or even to Mexico. Of course, on paper you can lay out the most perfect outline, but in the course of putting those ideas to paper, things are going to shift; call it magic or what you will, but the writing process (or life!) itself sort of takes control and things have a manner of going in directions that can be unexpected at best. For those of you who know me personally, it will come as no surprise that I have a tendency to live life in this way, letting things come as they will; I've always balked at the idea of trying to plan out my life to the tiniest detail, unlike some of my classmates who had 5 and 10 year plans written out to the very minute details. For me, I prefer a route with a bit more mystery than that, leaving a little something up to chance and just the beautiful unfolding of life as it happens.
While an outline approach to life and to writing has never felt right to me, I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to find a meaningful direction as a questioning soul on this beautiful journey. I’ve had the luck and luxury to get to ask a lot of hard questions and traveling has presented me with such an openness, all that this world has to offer, all the ways in which it is so flawed. I’ve been experimenting with the myriad of possibilities that life presents, trying them on in the search for the best fit. At times, it’s felt frustrating or overwhelming to have such flexibility and openness in the way I've been living but what I always come back to is gratitude that I am living a life with so many questions that I am getting to ask of myself and the world. Things are not laid out in a straight line, but there are a multitude of paths available and it really is a gift to be able to chose the one I like, or even to make it up as I go. I think this is a sentiment many travelers and even more generally, many people of this age and generation are facing; it’s a conversation I seem to be having again and again with friends and folks along the way. Navigating life with so much openness is a messy art of its own, so here's the rough draft on how I've been working it out.
You are the architect
It should seem pretty straightforward that at least in today’s society not everyone wants the same thing. We don’t all have the same expectations out of life and happiness may look different depending on who you are. Being on the road and learning little bits about other cultures and the expectations they hold has opened my eyes to this on an even bigger scale. But it is also true within one cultural framework. Ultimately, I think every person may want something a little different out of life, so it’s important to figure out what that looks like for you. Once you know what it is you’d like to create, it’s a lot easier to actually lay out the plans.
What are the things that are most important to you in life? What are the things that you’re not willing to compromise on? For me, right now I’m really attached to my freedom and I’m unwilling to give away my flexibility for a typical 9-5 office job. This means I make less money and I live with less material things. I buy less and I spend a good part of the year living in countries where the cost of living is lower than in the US. My salary is not the sole marker of my success and I'm happy how I'm living because I’m keeping in line with the values and things that make me feel fulfilled. I've found that it's important to know this on a very conscious level, especially if what you want is not the most traditional path out there; otherwise, you can start comparing yourself to other people when it's not really relevant.
Curate your vision
For me, it seems that visions come relatively naturally. It’s putting my values into a sort of picture and seeing how it might play out in this way or that. It’s sort of a daydream that keeps me going, where I can say “Yeah! I can see myself accomplishing that, or being in this place or that place”. It’s somewhere off in the future but close enough that I can recognize my present self in it, just with a bit of work or the passage of some time.
It’s also important to allow yourself to dream and I think this plays an important role in having a vision. I think of a vision as a more practical version of a dream, but this doesn’t mean you should sell yourself short or cheapen your vision at all. It’s meant to be a sort of guide and I think aspiration can have an important role to play in this. Visions can be fun and playful, too, it doesn’t have to be all serious; after all, it’s really just thinking about how you’d like to see yourself, what kind of situations you can see yourself enjoying and thriving in. Once you can see that, then you can take the steps towards creating that reality.
Follow your intuition
We are trained to be very good at thinking with our brains! But brains are noisy and bossy and this means that oftentimes, we rule out a more innate knowing that goes beyond the conscious mind. It’s not to say that rational thought doesn’t have it’s part to play, but our mind isn’t always the entity that knows what’s best or even what’s right in a particular situation. Sometimes quieting it down (or at least acknowledging all the noise it’s been making) will enable you to tune into the other knowledge that you possess. Your gut and your heart can only contribute to this process when they have the space to do so and when you’re ready to listen. It’s a process to get in touch with your intuition and it’s something that I think gets easier with time and practice.
Following your intuition means you don’t have to go with the ‘easy’ answer or the one you think is ‘right’. It means you can be open to creativity and the unexpected. It might mean taking risks and doing things that feel out of your comfort zone, maybe you want to try living in a new way or move somewhere you don’t know anyone. Your brain might be saying ‘no way’ but your gut could be saying otherwise.
Put thought into action
It’s always really clarifying to me when I get to actually try out my ideas. Whether it’s a big action or a small one, I always feel that it’s some little way of getting some feedback on what I’ve been thinking or feeling. Acting gives the universe a chance to get back to you, because you’re putting energy out consciously into the world and you can see what that generates and the ways that it will come back into your life and how this feels. Does it align with your vision or not so much? From there you can make adjustments and try something new.
Interims are okay
Things aren’t going to fall into place immediately; just because you have a vision doesn’t mean your life will look that way right away so it’s important to have stepping stones along the way and recognize them as such. I’ve recently started doing a lot of freelance writing work; I’m not always writing material that comes pouring directly from my soul but I am getting paid to write and supporting myself as I continue to travel and become a better writer. It’s part of a learning process, not the final or ultimate step. I’m growing from the work that I’m doing and it’s helping me to shape my vision and refine it along the way. But I’m also not going to settle for just doing this work, this way; I'm going to use it as a tool to continue on a path towards other dreams.
Things are constantly evolving, so it’s being at peace with the process that’s the important part.