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.