When you’re travelling, if you’re having any sort of adventure at all, you will get lost. It’s inevitable.
It’s easy to get lost in life, too. Even if you’re a grown-up, one minute you can be wandering along blissfully through your life and suddenly you don’t have any idea how you got where you are. It can seem impossible to get yourself back on track.
Stephen and I have been lost a lot. In China, where construction outpaces mapmaking by miles, we often found ourselves in unexpected places, with no way to communicate or ask for directions. In Croatia, we were cycling blissfully along the Adriatic Coast until we realized we had no idea which of the steep rocky trails would lead back to civilization.
We have felt lost in our lives so many times it’s hard to count. Even now that we’re on a road we both love, some days it still feels like we don’t know where we are or where we’re going.
Yup, getting lost sucks.
But, being lost for a little while can be great, too. It can be eye-opening, challenging, and set you more purposefully on your course. But if you’re lost for too long, it can start to be scary as hell.
So what do you do if you’re lost?
Here are a few lessons we learned getting lost on our travels that can help you find yourself if you’re lost in life.
5 Steps To Finding Yourself
1. Admit you’re lost.
What do guys do when they’re lost in the car? They keep driving and driving, pretending they totally know where they’re going. It’s not just guys though. We all do it.
I’ve spent years stuck in situations that don’t make me happy, convinced that if I just keep moving forward, I’ll find my way through. Guess what? It doesn’t work!
Why is it so hard to admit when we’re lost?
Because it makes us feel like failures. It makes us feel stupid and vulnerable. It makes us feel alone since all the people around us seem to know exactly where they’re going. It makes us wonder what’s wrong with us. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with feeling lost. In fact, if you feel lost, you’re in good company.
(Wanna know a secret? I think most grown-ups are lost. We just get better at hiding it the older we get.)
So if you’re lost, the first step is to take a deep breath and admit it. You’ll never find yourself if you’ve not even trying.
2. Don’t panic!
If we learned one thing from The Hitchhiker’s Guide it’s that you should always carry a towel. If we learned two things, the other one is Don’t panic!
If you’re lost, whether it be on the streets of a foreign city or on the streets of your own life, the natural reaction is to start sweating, swearing, crying, and generally panicking. Fight that urge.
It’s time for another deep breath.
Then, with your brain full of sweet oxygen, take a moment to look around. It’s probably the only time you’ll be in this particular place in your life. There’s always something to learn when you’re lost, something new to discover. If you look hard enough, something new might even be revealed about yourself.
So don’t rush to get un-lost just yet. Unfamiliar territory is where the adventure begins.
3. Ask questions.
If everyone and everything around you is unfamiliar, it can make you feel like a baby zebra at a lion party.
Everyone seems to be walking with confidence and purpose while you twist in circles searching for a way out. But in reality, you’re not that different from the people around you. At least one of those people has been in the same situation as you and one of them has the knowledge to lead you to more familiar ground.
So start asking questions.
Talk to friends, bosses, your dentist… let yourself be vulnerable and seek help.
(Trust me, I know how hard this step can be. I’d almost rather stay inextricably lost than ask for help!)
It might take you a while to find the right person. You might find that most advice you get seems like it is being spoken in a foreign language – it just doesn’t make any sense to you. Keep talking and asking and eventually you’ll find someone who makes sense, seems to understand, and can help you move forward.
4. Use your instincts
When I get lost in a strange place, I tend to think way too hard.
I concentrate on trying to remember the exact route I came down or I stare and stare at the map, hoping the blurry lines on the page will start to make sense.
We haven’t completely lost that innate sense of direction our ancestors possessed – the one that led them back to the safety of the cave after a long day of hunting and gathering – but it can be a little hard to tap into. Try to let the noisy logic of your brain drift away so your instincts can show you the way.
If you’re trying to find the way out of the confusing mess of your life or just the way forward from today, resist the temptation to think too hard. It can be tempting to dive deep into research, filling in goal-setting worksheets, and trying to logic your way into the next phase of your life.
That approach might work. But sometimes it totally backfires and you end up going around and around in busy little circles until your head spins.
If that sounds familiar, try the opposite. Just relax and give your instincts a chance to kick in. Tuning into your gut can lead you right where you need to be.
5. Extricate yourself one step at a time.
Even if you’re following advice or directions from a knowledgeable person, it doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly not lost anymore. It takes time and patience to follow those directions to a destination.
It might take a lot longer than you expect, or you might even discover that the directions you were given were terrible. Instead of finding a destination, you end up down a blind alley and have to start all over again at step one.
Finding yourself can take a lot of work. Just have patience, keep trying, and eventually you’ll get there.
Getting lost while travelling means you’re embracing adventure and stepping out of your comfort zone. It means you are being exposed to new insights and experiences. Getting lost in life means exactly the same thing.
Getting lost isn’t a sign of weakness or stupidity; it’s a sign that you’re doing something right.
Are you lost? Go on, admit it in the comments below. Or help other readers by sharing your tips for finding yourself.