Where Do We Go From Here?

When the Journey Ends

Those who have followed me weekly reads know that for the last several weeks I have focused more on non-fiction than my usual fare. This non-fiction emphasis has focused on journals or memoirs of long-distance hikers. Individuals who have committed months of their life to complete a thru-hike. These thru-hikes found the person day-in and day-out placing one foot in front of the other to complete a course several hundred and even thousands of miles long whether it is labeled the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, or many others.

As I read each entry, these hikers presented their stories from their own unique perspective and experience. This provided individualized views into the shared journeys, yet one common theme began to materialize. A feeling of loss. As the end neared, the hikers entered what may likened to a state of depression or grief. Each day for months, these men and women had awoke, packed up camp, and set out on the trail. Monotonous task seven days a week for months on end broken on by the changing scenery through which they trekked.

Each soul faced with the question, “What now?” And each soul finding an inability to provide an adequate answer. In the end, some returned to their prior life. They live each day as their former self, trying to find contentment in knowing what they have accomplished and how it has changed them forever. Others could not be satisfied. They set out on their next adventure with many completing the Triple Crown of the AT, PCT, and CDT. Still others are not even satisfied with that accomplishment and take their journeys to other places in the world or even set out to hike the same long distance trails a second or even third time.

Why Now?

So, why have these thoughts come to the forefront of my mind now? I have come to the end of a path of my own. My journey to complete not only my bachelors degree but also my masters has ended. The last two years has found me consumed with completing the tasks necessary for assignments due that week. Week-in and week-out with only five one-week breaks to break that monotony. Even during those breaks, I was looking ahead to the next courses to get a jump start on the assignments.

Now, the goal I set for myself has been reached. No horns were blown, no confetti sprayed, no fireworks exploded. I awoke the next day trying to plan for the assignments due that week. The obvious problem being that there were no assignments due that week. Graduate school was over. I had no more obligations to complete assignments working toward my graduation.

The next chapter had to be turned. What does this graduation mean? Obviously, I sought (and continue to seek) a job in my new field. Now it is a waiting game. Unfortunately, while I wait, I continue to be bombarded with the fact that this goal has been reached.

So What?

I understand there may be those that do not necessarily understand the concept I am describing here. Those long distance hikers, myself, and others like us share another important attribute. We are goal driven. Several weeks ago, I had a discussion on the effects of deadlines and how there are those who live for the pressure of that deadline. That pressure seems to bring out their best work as they become more focused on meeting that end-point, that goal.

This is the same concept. The goal we have been working toward, have invested so much of our life to has been reached. It has disappeared. It becomes difficult to enjoy any celebration of completion because we are lost in finding the next goal. To add to the complexity, we may establish a long term goal but recognize that it is a future goal. Thus we must find a short term objective to help us work toward that long term plan.

What’s the Connection?

The more I thought about this concept and this common issue, the more I questioned how it affected others. I was immediately drawn to writing. Is this a problem within the writing community? When you complete a work whether it be a poem, short story, novella, novel, whatever, do you experience feelings of loss or grief because you have reached the end?

I know from the stories I have written thus far, I become very close with each of my characters. I know them inside and out. They become family. At times, I look forward to the next opportunity to sit at the desk with them and discuss their lives. When I reach that final page, it becomes almost like saying good-bye to a dear friend. Do others experience these same feeling?

I read of some thru-hikers who would slow their pace intentionally as they neared the end of the trail. More often than not they were conscious of their actions and their intent. They were trying to delay the end. Have any of the writers out their delayed completion of a work because you did not want to say good-bye to the characters?

What are your thoughts, your confessions? Comment below, on social media, or even drop me an email. I truly am curious to know what the writers at large think about this. And remember to keep your head above the level of the Chaos.


Making a Change

This post is prompted by the fact that I wake up this morning in a very unusual frame of mind. School is over. I have invested the last five years finishing a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree. In fact, the last two years have found me consumed by classes with no more than a one to two-week breaks between terms. Daunting at times, yes, but this became my norm. What do I do now? Where do I go from here? The fact that I awake to a day and even a week where I have no assignments due, no assessments to prepare for leaves a strange feeling. Almost a feeling of nothing.

Of course, nothing may be a misnomer. I must continue my job search. The reason I returned to school those years ago was in preparation for a job transition. Something that was terrifying then, and remains not so comfortable now. I have invested over twenty-five years in healthcare. Now I have made the decision–along with my wife–to change direction, set a new course. In truth, I am chasing a dream. A dream to not only become a published writer but to also share my love of the craft with students in the classroom.

Lunacy or Sanity?

I am not alone. There are hundreds and thousands of individuals today who are making the decision to change course after what many would consider a life-long career. They walk away to pursue something new. Sometimes it may be to chase a dream, other times it may simply be to seek a change because after twenty or thirty years they have all but burned out.

Many of you will look at me and these other individuals as crazy. Why jump ship after so long? That is a question not easily answered and one which actually prompts us to seek a change, to begin with.

Those who regularly follow my blog know that I have tried to make a return to another of my loves–hiking and more recently backpacking. My family has renewed our quest to get back to nature for our own sanity and well being–finding a peace in the storm and chaos of the everyday world. Nature like Cataract Falls in the picture above. These falls are a prime example of finding solitude. This is actually where my wife and I married and we return here on a regular basis reminded of that day. I would not even call the trip a hike, it is more of a short walk. The falls lie unknown to many no more than half-a-mile behind the Sugarlands visitors center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The walk is level and easy but when you reach those falls, they are always magical. The cascading water whether trickling after a dry spell or flowing freely from each rocky transition washes away thoughts of everyday life. The falls leave behind a fresh and renewed feeling or sense of being.

This reminded me also of the testimonies of many thru-hikers who have checked out of the real world for a time to complete long-range hikes like the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or Continental Divide Trail. Most if not all of these individuals talk about being dissatisfied with where they are whether on a personal level, professional level, or both. They eject from the “real” world to find themselves and return with a new perspective on life.

But Why?

But you still haven’t answered the question, why does anyone walk away from life to chase this dream? I have spent some time considering the possible answers. I’m not sure that there is indeed an answer that will suit everyone. At least in my case, I believe it came down to making mistakes in motivation.

Everyone wants to be successful and for most this is measured in monetary wealth. I understand now how wrong this idea is, but coming fresh out of high school was another story. I had spent a couple years approaching high school graduation listening to teachers, advisors, recruiters, and parents push the idea of what field I wanted to pursue in college. What vocation did I want to choose? I had no clue, I had no concept of the ramifications of the choice even. Instead of taking the idea seriously, consulting God on what path I should allow Him to lead me on, I began looking for careers which could give me the quickest return monetarily with the least investment in time spent in education.

I ended up, after changing my mind a couple of times and wasting my first two years of college with a full scholarship, in healthcare as a Physical Therapist Assistant. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the job. Loved meeting people–my patients and their families. But two things happened. First, I went from a broke high school and college student to suddenly making a very large salary. I had no idea how to manage it, quickly wasted it, and now have nothing to show for that career other than lessons learned. Second, I had those nagging thoughts in the back of my mind that kept saying, “What if?”

Never Too Late

Those of you who share my faith know that God has a way of getting a hold of you eventually. After twenty years, He led me back to school and blest me with a supportive family which allowed me to finish my degrees. Where am I going now? I have no idea, but I do know that I am trying to be more mindful of where God wants me to go. I will take the paths He lays before me and continue along them until He shows me where to turn. Sure some days the outcome looks bleak, and at the end of the day, I question this decision. He always responds to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep trusting and following.

In a way, that is why these words are bleeding onto the screen. I know I’m not alone. My family is on this journey with me. But I also know that there are more of you traveling similar paths. You need to know that you are not alone. You may question your direction every day, but you just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep on the course. In the end, it will be worth it. That may not be today, tomorrow, or even next week. But that day is coming. The day when you will leap from the chaos and scream, “I have arrived.”