When I was a kid in the back of my Mom’s silver Pinto noticing that we were clearly lost, I would ask her if she knew where we were going. She would always say with great enthusiasm, “We’re exploring!” That somehow eased my mind and I would sit back and stare out the window. There lies the root of my life long appreciation for exploring.
Later, in my 20s, I explored and tried new things, but with a great deal of anxiety about what I was “supposed” to be doing. Everybody else seemed to have a clear path or direction, and I had none. I seemed to fall into things or try something because it was presented to me, not because I sought it out. But, what I see now is that I was doing exactly the right thing by exploring and being open to possibilities. If someone had told me that my “process” was okay, I might have even enjoyed it, but maybe that’s 20/20 hindsight. Maybe the anxiety is part of the whole process.
Now I get to talk to people in their 20s (and older too) who have no idea what’s next, feel completely overwhelmed by their choices and really just need someone to say that it’s okay to not know. In fact, maybe it’s better not to have some preconceived idea of what your life is supposed to look like.
Now I see how valuable it can be to get in to the mindset of an explorer. Check things out, ask questions, no matter how silly they might seem. As the great poet, Rainer Maria Rilke said in “Letters to a Young Poet”:
“…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Maybe it’s hard to do this when you’ve just spent 4 years in school. The debt and the time spent studying has a way of implying you should know what you’re doing next.
Sure, there are the lucky few who are very focused on becoming a doctor or a lawyer or are so driven by passion for painting that they can’t do anything BUT paint.
But, what about those of us who have a multitude of interests, strengths and talents, many of which we take for granted?
Here’s where you get in to the mindset of an Explorer. You explore the world and yourself at the same time. Ask yourself these questions:
What do I like? What am I good at? What exhausts me? What energizes me?
But don’t expect to have an immediate answer. As Rilke said, “Live the questions now.”
You will notice things about yourself, but, try not to judge as in, “I’m terrible at math, how am i ever going to get a job when I still count on my fingers?” Instead, notice that you count on your fingers and note that accounting is probably not a field to consider. No judgment, just an observation.
To help in your exploration, read books, blogs, columns, go out there and be inspired by people doing creative things. Decide what your opinion is and talk about it with people.
Here are some things that I’ve done (and still do) and may help to get you going:
Read any or all of these books:
The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People by Carol Eikleberry, PhD: Oh, how i wish this book had been written when I was younger. I knew I was creative, but had trouble deciding on a medium and Carole Eikleberry affirmed that not having a specific calling doesn’t discount your creativity!
The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine: Again, what comfort this book would have given me to know that having lots of interests is not wrong. Instead it can be regarded as a gift.
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp: I absolutely love this book as it’s filled with inspiration and helpful tips. One of my favorite quotes relevant to exploration is: “My daily routines are transactional. Everything that happens in my day is a transaction between the external world and my internal world. Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds in to my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it. Without the time and effort invested in getting ready to create, you can be hit by the thunderbolt and it’ll just leave you stunned.”
Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, PhD: Great book to help you see what you’re good at and how to use it, rather than focusing on what you “should” be good at.
How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith: If you’re at a loss for how to explore, then this book will guide you through it in a playful, fun way. (In fact, all of Keri Smith’s books are worth checking out for finding ways to play and be creative).
* Follow creative people on Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest.
* Go to conferences or talks or meet ups in your city.
* Write a fan letter to someone you admire. I had never been one to do that because what could I possibly say? But, then I did write to a few online personalities that I admired, and they all wrote me back! Nothing came of it, but it felt good to tell someone that I thought what they were doing was interesting or inspiring.
* Take a class that interests you even if there’s no point. I’m about to take an online Wholefoods Cooking class. Coming up next is another of Holly Becker’s blogging classes. I don’t see a future for me in blogging, but when I take her classes they’re so well done that it inspires me in general. I meet fascinating people, learn new things and it’s fun. No point to it whatsoever other than that (at least for me).
* See live music, including classical.
* Go to restaurants, art museums, galleries.
The main thing is to get out of your own head. The answers are within you, that’s without a doubt, but they don’t always present themselves in the way you want them to. You have to explore, be a sponge and get comfortable with the unknown.
Courage is a love affair with the unknown. — Osho
One last thing. I write this post from my own experience, which was one of complete and utter confusion throughout my 20s and most of my 30s. Then there came a time in my 40s when I looked back and in spite of the disjointed career I seemed to have had, there were patterns. I saw consistent things that I was good at. I also saw dreams, even secret ones that never went away. So, trust that even if it feels like utter mayhem when you’re going through it, if you allow yourself the freedom to follow your own heart, then you’ll find yourself doing something that makes you happy.
Good luck and never be afraid to ask someone for help or guidance.