When I graduated from college in May of 2018, I felt unstoppable. I had a sparkling new degree in a subject I was good at. I had an internship turned part-time contract at a company I loved. I had the next four months of my backpacking trip to Europe mostly planned out. But, when my travel money ran out and my contract was up, I went from an eager, hopeful enthusiast, to a confused, gloomy job-seeker. I was completely lost. I still am.
At the Fall 2019 TEDxMileHigh event, I heard five words that I’ll never forget.
As Paula Stone-Williams talked about gender equity and living authentically, she said, “lost is a place, too.” The professional in me furiously scribbled down these words as they simultaneously slapped me in the face. But the 23-year-old struggling college graduate living with her parents in me wanted to walk up on stage and hug Paula for speaking directly to my soul.
Fast forward a few months, and as I rang in the new decade, those words stuck with me. Yes, I am totally confused about what I want to do in life. No, I don’t have all, if any, answers. Yes, I have somewhat of a plan, but no, I have no idea where to start. And that’s okay.
This part of life is called being lost. It’s a place to rediscover myself and my passions and to let go of any previous expectations I or anyone else had for me. If this sounds like you, and the new year has brought you more uncertainty than a promise, learn how to cut yourself some slack to rediscover your passion.
Think About What You’ve Done
At the end of 2019, I was introduced to a personal reflection activity called life mapping. The point is to reflect on the year you’ve had, or in the case of this new year, the last decade, and draw out your experiences. By doing this, you not only reflect on all of your past accomplishments, but you also have a visual representation of the life you have lived and the experiences you’ve had.
After I completed my 2019 and 2010s life maps, I realized that I was not giving myself enough credit for the things I’ve done and the life I’ve lived. In the last few years, I graduated from high school and went to college. I made an entirely new group of life-long friends. I lived abroad on my own for six months and backpacked alone in Europe for three. I graduated from college, got a new internship at a company I love, and paid off seriously intimidating credit card debts. Twice.
I did all of those things. Things some people will never do or will not have the opportunity to do. When I look back on it, I have done some cool sh*t. Until this exercise, I focused on everything I didn’t do—all of the things I failed to accomplish and all of the things I still don’t have.
While it’s important to have goals and achieve them, don’t lose sight of the little wins along the way.
You never know where one experience will take you. Maybe I needed to have a job and lose it before I could find a place to build my career. Maybe I will need to have and lose 10 more jobs before I find where I truly belong.
So, Why Do We Focus on Lack of Progress?
Has anyone ever told you to learn from your mistakes? Have you been taught that failure is the key to success? While there is truth in learning from failure, according to Forbes, it’s causing us to focus more on our failures than our successes.
“We are told to learn from our failures, so we fixate on them,” says author Caroline Beaton. In other words, we are so distracted and occupied with trying to find and understand the lesson we are supposed to learn from our mistakes that it becomes our focus. We are now hard-wired to immediately react to our failures in this way.
We are conditioned to automatically dwell on things we did wrong or didn’t do, rather than celebrate the things we did right.
A simple fix, the article mentions, is to move on. If there is a lesson to be learned from a failure, learn it and keep going. Don’t continue to analyze why you made a mistake or where you went wrong. Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake and there is no other lesson besides knowing that you did not achieve your goal.
So this year, rather than thinking about all of the things you wanted to achieve last year but didn’t, cut yourself some slack. Refocus on the wins and accomplishments from the last year. Gain motivation from what you did right and what you achieved, rather than dwell on the negativity of what you did wrong.
It’s Still Okay to be Lost
Maybe you’ve looked back on your year already and realized all of your successes, but you still have no idea where to go. You’ve learned from your mistakes, you’ve moved on, and you’re still lost. According to Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky’s TEDxYouth talk, lost isn’t always a bad place to be.
In his talk, Poswolsky mentions a man he met in San Francisco while riding his bike. The man was from Barcelona and was in desperate need of a job because his visa had expired. He asked Poswolsky if he knew anyone who needed a graphic designer. Poswolsky helped him network and secure a job at a small start-up. A few years later, the man took Poswolsky to dinner. He revealed that his company had been acquired by Yahoo! for $80 million.
This man was in a city he wasn’t from, talking to a man on a bike that he didn’t know. He was so lost that he took a huge leap of faith and asked a total stranger for help. This man from Barcelona would not have ended up at a company acquired for millions of dollars if he wasn’t brave enough to admit that he was lost in the first place.
You never know what is in store. You never know what one experience will lead to. It’s okay to not have all of the answers.
If you find yourself lost with no direction, relish in it.
Take advantage of every situation. Although it feels muddy, you are in a unique and advantageous position because you have no expectations—no plan to follow. You can go where your life experiences take you.
We Can’t Be Lost Forever: Three Steps to Find Your Way
There can be magic in being lost, but eventually, we all need to find our path. After you cut yourself some slack and embrace your lost-ness, it’s time to refocus on making progress. Here are some ways to encourage and motivate yourself.
1. Find Like-Minded People
Poswolsky calls them “believers,” people who believe in your goals because their goals and values are more or less the same. At a leadership conference, Poswolsky met his believers who, like him, were starting their own social change businesses. They all had a goal of creating meaningful work, so they could help support each other to achieve this goal.
Find people that inspire you and will hold you accountable. A good place to start is a TEDxMileHigh Adventure.
2. Embrace the “Big Ask”
Who knows where the man from Barcelona would be today if he hadn’t been riding his bike alongside Poswolsky that day in San Francisco. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether he would or would not have made it. What matters is he dared to ask. He had no idea what Poswolsky would do or say or if he would even care. But, he embraced his desperate situation and asked anyway.
At one point or another, an opportunity will present and lead you out of your lost place. You need to be willing to take advantage of that opportunity and push yourself to discover a new path.
3. Celebrate Your Wins
As you gain clarity and move further towards success, don’t forget to celebrate the little wins (and the big ones). Celebrate every win along the way. Remember, we’re retraining our brains to not focus on our failures and mistakes. You are working hard. You’ve pulled yourself up and are making moves, so don’t be afraid to enjoy it.
Lost is a Place, Too
So, 2020 has already begun. It’s a new year, a new decade, and a new opportunity to feel completely lost. Now you know that it’s okay. You never know what doors this era of uncertainty will open for you. Sometimes being lost is a good thing.