Why it's important to get lost sometimes
I was 17 when I walked into my first college classroom. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I remember waiting outside my orientation classroom anxiously, feeling obviously separated from the adults around me. I was immediately labeled as the baby of the class. The first day, though, I was surprised to find that my instructors were two junior guys who happened to be in the same honors college as me. As a class, we were informed we would read a single book for the class and then do a group project at the end of the semester. The book was The Field Guide to Getting Lost. My instructors flat out told us that they hated the book and only told us to read it to please the dean. I did not share my instructors’ opinion of the book. After reading the first chapter, I knew this book would be important to me.
Why is it important to get lost? Well, according to the author of the book, Rebecca Solnit, “…it’s not about being lost but about trying to lose yourself.” You don’t have to deliberately force yourself to get lost in that big park down the street or in the woods behind your house; rather, accept when you are lost like I was in college. I had no idea what I was doing at the time or where to go, but I didn’t give up. Instead, I pressed on, all the while finding myself.
After reading The Field Guide to Getting Lost, I realized we, as humans, have put numerous systems in place to help us not get lost. There’s GPS, Google Maps, physical maps, tour guides, all sorts of other things that are there specifically to help us avoid getting lost. But, that’s “getting lost” in the traditional sense. Solnit speaks of various types of “getting lost” all of which involve a mental disposition or sense of being lost, placing yourself in an unknown situation with just your ingenuity to get yourself out. Expanding on this, she writes, “Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing.” Once you’ve lost yourself, you enter into that state of vulnerability, acceptance, understanding, and even awakening all come easier. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re lost, and an overwhelming sense of satisfaction washes over you when you “find” yourself in any connotation of the word.
“Getting lost” won’t be your saving grace, but after experimenting with it myself, I can tell I have more humility as a result. I am. I’m more aware of my limits. I know that “getting lost” is a great exercise in acceptance and it helps ground you in the present.
It’s important to “get lost” because you come to realize that the world is bigger than you could ever imagine, that every little thing has value and is different. You (along with all the other billions of people on this planet) are insignificant; you are also powerful and capable beyond belief.
How do you expect to find yourself if you don’t spend time alone, wandering, in your own country? I don’t recommend going to different states on an ill-planned road trip. No, what I’m asking you to do is to just go down a trail in that park you always wanted to visit. Explore any national parks close by. Dance in the dark barefoot on dew-laden grass. Learn how to ride a bike if you haven’t already, and ride as far and hard as you can going nowhere in particular. Forget your car, and walk some place even if it’s four miles away.
In preparation for my trip abroad, I have been to historical landmarks, run-down parks, and two national parks in my town. Sure, you might not live close to any of these things, but try and explore your surroundings and lose yourself in the process.
Carry on, dear reader, and remember that being lost or getting lost does not need to be a predicament. Instead, see it as an experience to learn from. You’ll reminisce about those experiences and realize that in that particular instance of time you grew from it.