Live Through This

Get Lost!

Stop making plans, start taking action.

Collage by Beth.

Collage by Beth.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve spent years pretending otherwise, but it’s true. I used to stay up every night until two or three in the morning, making panicked to-do lists that I believed would get my life back on track, but the motivation to follow through with those often unrealistic plans (e.g., “move out of my parents’ house by June”) when that was two months away and all I had for money was a part-time minimum-wage job) would fade as the sun came up. I’d repeat the whole cycle the next night. I drove myself crazy.

This is what’s often called “being lost,” especially by the adults in your life, who constantly admonish us to find “some direction” in life. From the moment you stop wearing diapers (maybe, no judgment!), it seems, everyone starts asking you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I mean, it’s not like anyone was really gonna hold you to your answer, but if that’s the case, why ask a four-year-old? It conveys the message that you’d better start strategizing about your future as early as you can, even when your short-term plans include eating Play-Doh and wetting your bed.

As you get older, the questions get more specific: What colleges are you applying to? What will your major be? What are you going to do after you graduate? Then, later: What, you’re not married yet? Are you going to have kids? Why don’t you want kids? Who will take care of you when you’re old? Do you have enough money to retire? And then: What will you do now that you’ve retired? Do you want to be buried or cremated? ENOUGH!

Even if you do have answers to all these questions, life doesn’t care what your answers are. Life doesn’t play well with people who know exactly where they’re going, because life is an asshole.

But being lost isn’t a bad thing; being lost can be great. Being lost forces you to keep moving. It forces you to keep examining who you are, where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there. It allows you to change your mind and it allows you to forgive yourself for missteps (and there will always be missteps). Being lost can equal freedom.

I used to have everything figured out. After I graduated from high school, I was going to go to a community college for two years to save some money while studying photography. Then I would transfer to a four-year university, graduate with a fine-arts degree, and then I would snag an internship at some amazing magazine, where I’d learn a bunch more about photography. All of this training would make me a lock to become a grip at various big photo studios, and by the time I was 30 I would definitely be a great, famous photographer along the lines of Annie Leibovitz or Cindy Sherman. Life was going to be AWESOME.

Then came the crippling depression, the slipping grades, the “sorry, but we don’t want you at our college” letter, and the realization that I don’t even really like taking pictures anymore, and everything I thought I had wanted was gone, which only strengthened my belief that I was an utter failure.

And I had, indeed failed. I’d failed at everything I thought I wanted. Somewhere along the way I got so focused on my plans for the future that I stopped paying attention to what was going on with me in the present. I had been battling depression since high school and I was so afraid that getting thrown off track that I just kept pressing forward, chanting, “Don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up,” like a way less posi little engine that could.

Then my therapist, a woman I started seeing after I got my heart broken for the first time, asked the simplest question. I told her I had messed everything up, and she just goes, “So what?” I was stunned. I wanted to scream, “Now everyone knows I’m a failure!” But I just laughed. She was right, and I felt so dumb for not realizing it sooner—my decisions weren’t life-or-death scenarios. They affected me and only me. No one cared if I became a photographer. I could do anything I wanted. The freedom I felt almost knocked me over.

Life is like a river, OK? (Stay with me.) I mean it is fluid; the water just keeps on moving, and we have to move with it. Our plans for the future need to help us move forward; if they don’t, they’re like anchors we’ve tied ourselves to. They’ll drown us. That’s what happened to me: I stayed on the track to go to college and be a photographer for years longer than I should’ve. I’d get frustrated, drop out of college, get depressed, then go back—all because I was unwilling to admit that I had changed.

So I stopped making plans, and I started taking action. I looked for opportunities that felt interesting right then, in the present, and tried to not worry too much about the possibility that they’d end in embarrassing disaster. My new life goal was to just keep moving.

On a whim, I applied for an internship for a Seattle newspaper (ignoring the pricey 45-minute commute and my own lack of experience) and that evolved into a job at a kick-ass weekly paper working with some of the smartest people I will ever share office space with. I hosted a radio show with zero radio experience, I wrote a cookbook, I got mentioned on the Wikipedia page for the Phil Collins song “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” because my sister once dared me to listen to that song every waking hour for a week, and take a look at me now! I get paid to have conversations with some of my favorite musicians and hockey players for the Stranger and the Nashville Scene! And I write pretty regularly for Rookie! I didn’t plan for any of this, and it’s all pretty amazing (I’m especially proud of that Phil Collins thing). I’m telling you this not because I want to brag about the fact that I worked with Dan Savage or that I once baked cupcakes for Rosie O’Donnell (although both are true—self high-five), but because none of these opportunities would’ve come to me if I didn’t allow myself to wander, to be a little bit lost.

So the next time someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, channel a bit of my therapist’s spirit and be like, “Who cares?” You don’t have to know right now—so long as you keep it moving. ♦

Megan Seling is a writer and baker currently living in Nashville (with a big chunk of her heart still living in Seattle). She yells about music, sugar, and hockey on Twitter.

27 Comments

  • flawedpoet April 14th, 2014 3:19 PM

    Thank you. I really needed this right now

  • AidaA April 14th, 2014 3:46 PM

    wow wow wow

    This is what I’ve basically been trying to tell myself for the past year! I’m one of those people who constantly makes to-do lists, and writes down life goals every week which can be motivating but in the end I started to judge my self worth by my productivity. If I didn’t do something, if something didn’t go to plan I thought I was a failure. It’s got so difficult that I struggle to answer emails. I can relate to this so much especially the university part. I got into Oxford University and then missed the grade by a mark and fell into depression. But if The Plan hadn’t got messed up, if I hadn’t got lost, I wouldn’t have found all the amazing things I have now.
    Thanks! This is great!

    Aida
    x

    http://sunshinesuperwoman.blogspot.co.uk

  • tangratoe April 14th, 2014 4:35 PM

    This is amazing, I think everyone needs to read this :)

    • summer818 April 14th, 2014 10:14 PM

      Yes! Agreed. Can we begin mandating this as reading in all public school career classes? Effective immediately

  • speakeasied April 14th, 2014 4:48 PM

    This was everything I needed and then some. THANK YOU.

  • camila April 14th, 2014 4:53 PM

    perfect timing!! thank you so much <3

  • Erin. April 14th, 2014 4:58 PM

    I feel this. When I was little, I used to be so confident in my own weird way. I was so sure of everything I did and I’d thought it’d all work out somehow. I never gave much thought as to jobs or careers, though – I cared more about what kind of person I was and was going to be. Somehow I still managed to make a mess of that. Sometimes I feel like I’ve caused myself to become depressed, like I forced myself into it. Not a good theory. But I’m working on it. But it doesn’t help that the ONLY thing people ever talk to me about is “why don’t you have a job yet?” What I should say is “here’s a list of all the books I’ve read so far this year. Read one and then talk to me.” I know what my priorities are, even if no one else respects them. I’ve really been trying to work on not “getting myself together” but falling apart in a beneficial way. Being lost in a beneficial way.

    Thanks for writing this piece, Megan. It lets me know that I’m not alone.

  • Ting April 14th, 2014 5:12 PM

    This article describes exactly how I feel right now. I’ve never been great with planning for the future, and recently I had to write a paper on a career I thought I will go into. And that sort of threw me off the edge, since it’s super difficult for me to think in future terms. But this article affirms the little voice in my head that it’s okay to not be sure, and that is really reassuring.
    http://www.meadowinferno.blogspot.com

  • maggiemadge April 14th, 2014 5:21 PM

    I’ve been struggling a lot with what I have been wanting to be for sometime. I have an associates degree and now going for a BFA. Ever since I have been in school I have wanted to leave it! There are times where I have felt that I was doing the right thing by getting an education but I just don’t know anymore. I want to leave and figure out what I want and to travel. I am scared to do that and I am going to see how the summer goes with some classes. Is it still a good idea to be in school or should I leave and move somewhere else for a while? That’s what I have been asking myself a lot lately. I just mostly appreciate you writing this piece, Megan. Thank you!

  • Julia April 14th, 2014 5:22 PM

    this perfect for me, heading into senior year and all that college crap in a couple months

  • lexilikes April 14th, 2014 5:36 PM

    Exactly what I needed. Rookie you will forever be my teen hero. I love this.

    http://www.lexilikes.com/

  • becksbubble April 14th, 2014 6:30 PM

    this is great :) i need to tell myself this daily.
    http://dollygosh.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Sparkie April 14th, 2014 6:39 PM

    Thank you so much for this ! I’m a big planner, I always want to have my whole future figured out but yes things changed and I change and most often than not things don’t go as expected and also most often than not I get frustrated about it when I could just go with the flow and be happy about what comes my way.. Good reminder and very well written !

  • fanatiquedecafee April 14th, 2014 6:58 PM

    Being in the eleventh grade has made me so anxious and fearful for the future but I’m beginning to realize what a waste of time planning can be, especially when those plans may not follow through. Thanks for this!

  • nnora April 14th, 2014 9:39 PM

    I have friends who constantly ask me what my ” life plan” is. Where do I want to go to college? Grad school? I DON’T KNOW. The funny thing about all of this is applying for college is barely a blip on the radar for me, but my friends seem to think it is a very important matter that needs to be dealt with NOW. So, sometimes I feel lost. But this article showed me that clearly I’m not even at the point were getting lost is really a thing, and if I was, so what? If life is a river, why not let it carry me along?

  • summer818 April 14th, 2014 10:13 PM

    This is absolutley beautiful. For the first couple paragraphs I was unsure of whether or not I had accidentally published my own journal during one of my sleep walking epsidoes; that’s how deeply I relate to it.

  • thebrownette April 14th, 2014 10:15 PM

    THIS THIS THIS. My motto is “just do it.” I’m a planner to the point where I will plan the rest of my life out again and again, but have trouble actually following through, so I’ve decided that DOING is really important for success. Sometimes that means doing things that are scary and new.

  • ASpoonfulOfSugar April 14th, 2014 10:16 PM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! All the pressure to constantly have a plan and be on top of everything and get into a good college and know where you’re going in life can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Sometimes, I need to be reminded to just take a deep breath and trust that things will work out for the best. This was perfect! Made me smile for the first time today :)

  • lizabeth April 14th, 2014 10:27 PM

    This is so encouraging!

    ps-Nashville is so rad–hoping to move there very soon :)

  • monalisa April 15th, 2014 12:37 AM

    i needed this wow THANK YOU VERY MUCH! how does Rookie deliver exactly what I need every month without fail? I love you guys so much

    yokooono.tumblr.com

  • piisaa April 15th, 2014 1:46 AM

    This is amazing and was greatly needed. Thank you.

    Also the Phil Collins thing is pretty awesome.

  • queenofnothing April 15th, 2014 7:39 AM

    Oh my, thank you for this text! This is so important! I feel a lot of pressure lately, mostly from my friends who spend hours talking about what they want to do after university and what career they want to pursue, and I never know what to say. “Who cares?” seems like a pretty good answer. I just want to live my life and do something interesting, but I’m not going to plan every move…

  • Sophii April 15th, 2014 12:39 PM

    I adore this to pieces. It almost made me cry. It’s all so true xo

    http://prettypassionsfinefashions.blogspot.co.uk

  • Maradoll Mynx April 15th, 2014 12:57 PM

    I needed this so much right now. Thank you for sharing :)

    Also…you made cupcakes for…The Great…Rosie O’Donnell? That is awesome ;)

  • Elsary April 15th, 2014 2:31 PM

    I really needed this. I’m going to high school next in autumn, and I’m just like a big ball of nervousness. “What will I do after college?” “I wanna be a journalist but I took too much physics courses, oh shit I fucked up” “I’ll do this and this and then this because that’s what I’ve decided” and I feel so bad because of this.

    So, thank you. Next time someone asks me stupid, irrelevant question like “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” I’ll definitely answer “Who cares?” and be happy.

  • tiffy April 16th, 2014 1:50 PM

    I definitely agree that there is a freedom in being lost, and that no one ever really has their shit together, but I do think the ability to be lost is a privilege. Not everyone has the luxury to wander and live in the moment or even follow their dreams (unpopular opinion, I know). So if you ARE able to do so, you should take advantage of it.

  • elektraheart April 19th, 2014 6:08 PM

    One of the best articles on here EVER!
    Wow.
    I hate the pressure of having to know all the answers to such hard, personal questions. Why do we even feel the need to follow the path that was cut for us? College isn’t the answer to everything and having a perfect relationships and kids, etc aren’t things that define who you are. You are you. You’re your own person. Do what you want. Live your life.