Sometimes, Those Who Wander Are Lost

08/07/2016 01:01 am ET

Quitting your job to travel the world has become so common among millennials that it’s almost now a cliché.

More and more millennials are finding themselves discouraged by the lack of fulfillment in the traditional job sphere, and are looking for other options. Those other options may include starting a business, moving abroad, or, like many millennials, traveling full-time.

These same discouraged and disillusioned millennials often find themselves excited for a short time about something that comes with the promise of change - it could be a political candidate, or a book, or even an Internet meme. Though occasionally pessimistic, millennials do get behind about the promise of a better world in droves - a world that would place a premium on humanitarian goals and personal development over corporate profits and capitalism.

I’m one such millennial. After receiving my bachelor’s degree and my law degree at a prestigious university and practicing law for a few years, I decided to ditch the “traditional” life to try to begin a freelance career while traveling the world with my dog.

I may have been looking for something when I chose to make such a dramatic move. I may still be looking.

Along the way, Facebook friends and Twitter followers sent me old but (theoretically) true platitudes like, “Life is a journey” or “Follow your heart” or of course, the 2016 Internet’s favorite meme about travel, “Not all who wander are lost,” an almost-but-not-quite quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem, “All that is gold does not glitter.”

But, ay, there’s the rub: sometimes, those who wander are lost.

And often, it seems, with the 20- and 30-something millennials of today, we are lost.

We are educating ourselves more, getting married later, having less kids, buying fewer material possessions, and still having no idea what will make us happy. Or even whether “happiness”, as an attainable state of being, exists.

I’ve always believed strongly that the negative characterizations of millennials are unfair. It’s impossible to change the status quo unless we actually try to change the status quo, and no generation pushes those boundaries more than millennials.

But let’s be honest: we’re not perfect.

We don’t realize the luxury of being able to jump from job to job or even, in my case, from job to no job, in order to find our happiness. It’s nice to live in a world where we’re not always worried about food in our bellies and a roof over our heads, so we are free to worry about more spiritual ideas like fulfillment - but we take for granted that our needs and wants should be met all the time. And we’re irrationally idealistic to the point of no return: some of us even declare our refusal to participate in a national election after the candidate we chose did not win the nomination.

Prior to ditching my entire life on a pipe dream of traveling the world, I believed (and largely, still believe) that there’s something wrong with the way we’re living: constant overwork, lack of familial support, an ever-worsening education system, and a pervasive culture of “me-ism” and competition, among other things, has led us to the broken and hatred-plagued nation we are now.

And yet, we’ve not actually been able to make any changes because many Baby Boomers are too stuck in their old ways - believing if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for us - and many millennials are too idealistic to participate in the process.

The zeitgeist is overwhelmed, unhappy, and angry. And we think we’re forging new ways of living, new ways of doing, new ways of being - when we’re really just rejecting the old ones without being sure of how to move forward.

Let me make clear: I’m not exempting myself from this assessment. Rather than stay in a career path which may have ultimately led me to politics (something that, at one point, I really wanted), I bowed out. I decided the forty-hour work week and the nine-to-five wasn’t for me - without knowing what was for me. I chose to give up any semblance of structure and traditionalism on the perhaps unrealistic idea that there may be “more” to life.

And maybe, there isn’t.

I’d love to imagine that I might be able to find something that generations before me didn’t. Or that I might be be able to live in a more emotionally sustainable way. But I should also face the fact that I may just be wandering from opportunity to opportunity, hoping, at some point, one of them miraculously works out.

Perhaps all of our millennial soul-searching and ditching the system and path-clearing has only led us to this point: a pervasive culture of unhappiness where we’re always looking for the next good, big, perfect thing, only to realize when we get there that it’s not good enough or big enough or perfect enough for our needs.

Or maybe, it’s just me.

Before I left, I was naively certain in the knowledge that I already knew much of what I wanted out of life. 

Now, I realize that I have no idea. 

And I may continue to have no idea.

This could be one of those times I look around and realize that everyone around me has their life together - and I’m the only one still wandering quietly, trying to figure it out.

I appreciate all of the love and support and memes along my journey, but at the end of the day, I may be one of those that wanders and is lost.

I have no idea what I’m going to do next, but I do, at least, know that there are many things I have left to learn.

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