I ‘ve always had a horrible sense of direction. Growing up, I’d get lost in department and grocery stores after hiding in boxes and display racks. My mom would always find me (usually because of my red hair).
Over time, my navigational abilities have barely improved. I know the cardinal directions, but I couldn’t tell you which way’s which unless the sun’s up. As much as I wish I could chart my path my starlight, I’m equally useless.
When I first learned to drive, both of my parents tried to help me navigate. My mom’s a longtime teacher, so it came easier to her. She’s also far more patient and understanding of my navigational challenges than my dad’s ever been.
I recall one particular afternoon where he showed me three parallel streets in our neighborhood on a map, roads I was on daily often more than once, too. And he asked me to recall one or two major intersecting streets between those parallel to one another. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t visualize the map nor remember the roads.
He tried to be patient with me to his credit, but I’ve since come to learn that spatial awareness is just not one of my gifts. I can read a map and use a GPS, but unless I have a strong sense of physical memory of an area, it just won’t stick. Some people can get lost in a parking lot, and I’m one of them.
We all get lost in life, though, and it’s not always about physically getting lost. Just a few days ago, I posted about stepping stones and journeys. And I’ve mentioned the value in taking our time and the importance of slowing down to appreciate the small things.
When we hit crossroads in life, we’re given the option to decide with a multiplicity of unforeseen consequences. These can be good or bad things, but we can rarely see their nature until after choosing a path. This inherent unknown drives many to fear, doubt, and ruin.
Indulging in existential angst only gets us so far, though. We can meditate, introspect, and seek arbitrary counsel, but these are only pacifiers to action. It’s essential to take that first step, to accept the chance of getting lost, to wander into the labyrinthine unknowns of life.
Accepting my navigational impairment isn’t just about getting lost in parking lots. It’s about the ruts I’ve put myself in, the times in life I seem capable of only left-hand turns, the proverbial roundabouts of not learning from mistakes.
Ruts and Roundabouts
I didn’t experience my first real rut in life until college. Most of my childhood and adolescence was full of dynamic growth. And I was blessed that most of what I learned about myself and the world were good things.
But when I hit college, I hit rut after rut. I could blame it on Lubbock’s flat, dry, arid terrain and a general lack of rainfall. Or I could be honest and less metaphoric—I was stuck deep in a mess of my own making, and I couldn’t quite get out.
My parents raised me with a great work ethic: work first, play later. This made sure responsibilities were taken care of, but you still had time to enjoy yourself. And even with hard workers like my parents, there’s value in taking breaks.
Heading to college gave me an illusion of freedom and a dangerous lack of accountability. My parents paid my tuition, but I didn’t pay anything as long as I didn’t fail a course. I had minimal loans for housing and food.
In high school, I skipped class less than three times (not including a pointless mandatory assembly or two). I’ve always been a goody-two-shoes, with a rebellious streak I never paid any heed. But when life hit me over the head with its uncertainties, I gave into that temptation to rebel.
Wandering down the path of “do what you want, when you want” was so fun. I had no one to tell me to stop or slow down as I made my way down myriad self-destructive paths. And before I realized how far I’d gone, I couldn’t pull myself out.
It was a slow and easy journey. I didn’t have anything pushing me along in college except the pressures I placed upon myself. I had the option to graduate in three years but chose to stay a fourth and gain a second degree.
And I finally felt wanted by the world. I had good friends in high school, but we all grew apart pretty quickly. My long-term (and only) relationship of nearly two years ended right before college, leaving me with a chasm in my chest. And I filled that emptiness however I could.
I know my ruts could’ve been more dangerous or destructive. I blame my nuclear family’s resilience and my sense of self-preservation for not doing worse to myself than I did. But I still offered up pieces of my tender heart and fragile soul in exchange for what I thought was freedom.
Trapped in my patterns of hurt and hate, I couldn’t break out of the loop. (If you ever get to LBK, you’ll find there’s only one loop worth mentioning.) I was caught up in childish notions of love and white knights, thinking any one of the foolish boys I met could save me from myself.
There was no way of knowing just how wrong I was. Fairy tales and damsels in distress fit into neatly packaged narratives, but not real life. No one can save you from yourself, especially if you’re determined to destroy everything that makes you who you are.
Bouncing my heart from one boy to another every couple of months wasn’t good for me. I kept going round and round, making the same mistake over and over, wearing myself into a rut. And it took countless mistakes to break me out of that loop.
Flipping a Bitch
When you spend your time running around, you wear yourself out. It’s part of the reason people settle into the ruts they create. You can’t spell routine without R-U-T after all.
And we all settle into dangerous or comfortable patterns. They’re familiar, things we understand which evoke an illusion of control over our lives. But eventually, you hit a point where you’re tired of circling back on yourself, and you want to try something new.
Getting lost means lots of turning around and circling back on yourself. In Texas, we’ve got lots of roadways and space for turning around. We use U-turns at almost every underpass (or at least that’s what it feels like).
I didn’t know that these are pretty popular in my home state, but not so much for other areas. Considering how often I miss turns, turnarounds like these are always something I’ve appreciated. When I got older, I learned a fun phrase for U-turns called “flipping a bitch.”
Often, I’m stressed when I get lost because I have somewhere to be at a specific time. Other times, I don’t mind the warm sun coming in through my windshield as I casually course correct. There’s something so nice about happening across a new cute house, a coffee shop to investigate or the simple pleasure of a good meander.
But when you’re ready to turn your life around, you do have to flip a bitch. It’s not always pleasant, and you’ll likely find resistance along the way. But getting out of ruts and roundabouts might mean circling back, too.
When I finally accepted I was in a rut, I got mad. I mean, furious. Now I know that anger was part of the fight response inherent to anxiety. At the time, I remember being mad at so many people.
I pushed away friends I felt couldn’t change or weren’t willing to adapt to the future. I found myself focusing solely on fewer friends who’d made the time and effort to be there (and consequently were trying to change, despite whatever obstacles presented themselves). And I was happier and better off for it.
I’m not close with many friends from college, but I have a friend group I’d practically die for today. I don’t know many people in their late 20’s who can claim as such. Getting to where I am today took lots of flipped bitches.
Destinations and Journeys
All this talk of getting lost and turning around, has ne thinking about why we journey through life. I’ve had the destination vs. journey debate a few times in my life, finding merit in both. I think we value one or the other based on where we are in life.
I prefer the journey to the destination. When anxious, I fixate on the destination, but I always enjoy myself more when I take time to appreciate the journey.
I won’t argue: both are equally important. Debating over which is more important reminds me of a debate I had over the importance of breakfast. My friend argued for its importance in starting the day and needing to be healthy, but not elaborate. He went as far as to claim as not even liking breakfast.
As an avid fan of all things breakfast, I disagreed. The principles of breakfast depend on taking the intentional time to create a little bit of delicious motivation in the morning to start your day. Of course, you can’t sit down daily for a decadent brunch, but that doesn’t mean even the healthiest diet can’t be enjoyable.
The same idea applies to destinations and journeys. Take the story of each journey one page at a time, and you’ll cherish the destination that much more. And getting lost on the way is as much an obstacle to the destination as it is as part of the journey.
I can assert that my getting lost, frustrating as it may be, is an essential part of my past. I wouldn’t give up my screwups and flipped bitches for anything. For every rut I’ve turned back from, I’ve had time to reflect on my mistakes and change. I’ve discovered opportunities to grow I might’ve otherwise missed.
Right now, I’m struggling to break out of yet another rut before I go roundabout, making the same mistake again. I know I’m going to be lost again as long as I’m alive. And as much as I fear not knowing my place, I’m excited.
Embracing uncertainty makes the destination worth all the work it took to get there. Every journey is enriched by a willingness to wander into the unknown. And every roundabout gives us a chance to look back before we build up the momentum to break the cycle and escape the rut.
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