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Mindfulness in Your 20s: Lessons I Learned From a Hitchhiker

05/26/2015 05:07 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016
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One time I was staring at my Harry Potter collection that consumes an entire row of my bookshelf, and I wondered how J.K. Rowling came up with enough stuff to cover that many pages. I then realized that the only way to fill those books was to continuously create problems. I delightfully read through every conflict because I couldn't help but feel that, no matter how long it took, the end would turn out well.

Author Donald Miller has done an incredible job teaching me that all stories involve a character who overcomes conflict to reach a goal. A billion light saber fights happened before Luke found out he had a dad who breathed heavily. Everybody, including Santa, told Ralphie that he would shoot his eye out. Ross and Rachel took 10 seasons to finally be together. Katniss had to go back to the Hunger Games. I never got into Lord of the Rings, but I'm assuming there was some struggle over some ring, so there's that one, too. Good stories have lots of problems.

Last spring, I was driving to my college to visit some friends. As I was cruising along Route 22, I saw a guy standing alongside the road holding a cardboard sign and wearing a backpack. As I got closer, I could tell he was only a few years younger than me. He had a smile on his face as he held his thumb up to the cars passing him. So, I did what any good, normal person would do. I drove past him.

At the last second, I saw that his sign said Huntingdon, which is exactly where I was headed. I'm not sure what made me stop and turn back around, but something inside of me said that it was ok to do it. I pulled off the road and waved over to him. As he walked toward me, I thought of how perfect a scenario this was for the beginning of a Criminal Minds episode.

He came up to my window and extended his hand. "Hello, I'm Edward." He clearly had an accent. After throwing his hiking gear into my backseat and getting in my car, he added, "I'm from Belgium. I'm travelling across the United States for as long as I can."

Oh. Well. This story just got significantly more interesting.

The next few minutes involved a lot of questions, but here's the scoop:
A few years ago, Ed decided to make a good story for himself. After years of saving up the cash, he left his home in Belgium and traveled through the UK before flying to Boston. In just over a week, he was in central Pennsylvania due to the random acts of kindness from strangers. Without realizing it, I was now one of those strangers.

I figured I should try to live as vicariously through him as possible. So I asked, "What has your journey taught you so far?" Edward revealed three thoughts:
• In life, don't be afraid. Just be a little cautious.
• There are kind people everywhere.
• You can wake up each morning and think you know just how life will roll, but there is a good chance something unexpected will happen anyways. Embrace it.

Although Edward had stumbled into some problems along his quest, he trusted his story would somehow work out. A few people invited him into their home; however, he spent most of his nights in his tent making the simplest of dinners. So, I headed to the nearest hotel to make sure Edward had at least one comfortable night before continuing his journey.

I kept thinking of more ways to help Edward, but I realized that my job was to only help him on this leg of the journey. Part of making it a good story was leaving it unfold on its own. I was meant to step into Edward's life to make a small difference. But, part of my job was to also step out. I realized that some people come into our lives to help send us into the next chapter, but they aren't meant to stick around forever.

I was so thankful that I was a part of Edward's journey, but I was just as happy that he was now a part of mine.

Sometimes I find my mind drifting into fantasyland of what I want the future to be like. But then I realize that I don't know if I'm on Book 4 or 7, Season 5 or 10, or if there will be a sequel to this movie. What I do know is that the end will be something I could have never predicted anyways. Edward woke up every morning having no idea what the day may bring, but he did know it would be a good story.

Try This
Being mindful is about approaching your story with kindness and gratitude. Your only job is to read one page at a time.

Right now, you may be imagining the way you want life to be like in a few years. Maybe you're even trying to predict what tomorrow will be like. This is easy to do because I always want to know how a story is going to end. But, try not to read your life as fast as I read Harry Potter. Because years later, you might end up forgetting some of the best details.

Try reminding yourself that you're living a story, and a story always involves the unexpected. And if you're waiting for the part when it gets good, trust me, you're in a good part right now.

(Part 6 of an ongoing crash course on mindfulness in your twenties. Click here for the last post.)