Updated on January 25, 2017
In a garden in Cambodia, hidden behind the leaves of overgrown trees, I spotted a small sign—a sign that I might have considered banal had it not been in “exotic” Asia. The following words, written with a black marker, danced across the stained wood: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been” (George Eliot).
Considering the afternoon spent sharing stories, indulging in sweets, and doing endless somersaults in the pool, I was pretty content with my current trajectory. That afternoon, I had been met by a level of freedom unlike anything I had previously encountered.
* * * * * *
Fast-forward a year and a half. I found myself on a layover in a country that was no longer just a random dot on a map, talking to a man who sounded a bit too much like my once hopeful and expectant self. Tall, unassuming, and reeking of naiveté, he sat next to my family and, after a series of questions, I began to fit the pieces of his life together.
He had never been away from home and was tired of the monotony of his life. In order to break free from his introverted tendencies and work on his social skills, he had committed to joining a pop-up intentional community, living off the land without technology. He was also on a layover, on his way to the tiny volcanic island he would trek across solo, before meeting up with the strangers who would soon become his “family” for the next month and a half.
He had no directions aside from an aerial image of the lush green island via Google Maps, on which he had added shaky pencil markings. Yet, he seemed confident of his adventure, assuring us in broken English, “It’ll work out.” He was essentially going on a “treasure hunt” with limited food, equipment, and money in a country that didn’t speak his language. Shockingly, he wasn’t paralyzed by thoughts of everything that could (and most likely, would) go wrong.
I stared at him in disbelief, wondering how life could be that simple…how dreams were something more than ideas scribbled into a notebook late at night…how they actually became a reality. I wondered how the plans to achieve such a reality didn’t suddenly choke-hold and suffocate the dreamer the moment they were born.
In my case, my family vacation had barely begun and I was already feeling the gripping claws of anxiety. With every breath, I grew less confident of my carefully researched itinerary. I was sure it was inadequate and so I anxiously waited for something…anything…to come along and destroy it, dragging me along with it.
See, I had felt this way for months now. I had been living in anticipation of things going wrong, failing to realize that I was about to self-destruct. Confused, isolated, and “stuck,” I continually prayed for a “way” out of my current situation. Nonetheless, despite my best efforts, I always came up short, feeling more discouraged and beat down than at any other time in recent memory.
Those beautiful words from Cambodia haunted me: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” I was on the fast track to nowhere, and didn’t care to remember who I was or what I “might have been” had my life continued on the path I was once so sure of.
I was done. I was done searching. I was done caring. I gave myself over to self-pity, and decided that hope was just another four-letter word. I would continue to exist as the hollow shell of the person I once was.
* * * * * *
Less than a week after our airport encounter, after driving late into the night through thunderstorms along the winding, storybook-like French countryside, my family found ourselves on a “treasure hunt” of our own. Complete with an island, a hand-drawn map, a missing key, a mysterious building, and a locked door, we were wholly unprepared for the adventure that would unfold that night.
Basking in the glow of the moon and the distant light from the 15th century Chateau across the narrow, rushing river, we reread our very-specific instructions, retraced our steps, oriented and then re-oriented our supplied map, and repeatedly tried to locate and gain access into our guesthouse for the night…which to an unsuspecting passerby, would most likely have appeared as a band of foreigners attempting to break in. We had a plan, but the plan was not giving us our desired result. As the clock quickly approached and then passed 4AM, caught up in the confusion and frustration from a long drive and a lack of sleep, we finally resolved to spending the night in our over-packed, pint-sized European car…
…that is, until we tried to comfortably settle in the car: long legs draped over bent bodies was just not terribly conducive to sleep. In a last ditch and desperate effort, we gathered en masse just outside our host’s door and feebly tapped on it (it was the wee hours of the morning and we didn’t dare risk waking the neighbors). We were hopeful she might be empathetic to our plight and assist us in gaining entry into our apartment “for the night,” rather than assault us with a barrage of anything from nasty comments to bullets.
Almost immediately, a grey-haired, middle-aged woman threw open the shutters and sleepily peaked her head outside—a scene I was sure I had seen in a movie somewhere. More confused than annoyed, she quietly led us back down the road, across the street, and through the dark “tunnel” to our hidden apartment. We were transfixed as we watched her effortlessly unlock a door that revealed the narrow, three-story spiral staircase that led to our “home”…a feat we had unsuccessfully attempted for almost three hours.
I lay awake that night (or should I say morning?) as I tried to comprehend the events that had just transpired—five brains had tried for hours to solve a simple “riddle” that was never meant to be confusing. While we came a bit closer to realizing our goal with each attempt, in the end, our efforts proved futile. We only achieved success when, rather than continue to “follow the plan” and subsequently run straight into a series of roadblocks and locked doors all night long, we finally stopped looking for the way and created one instead.
“You need to make a way.”
The words came almost instantly, without effort on my part.
I knew it was time to make a change. It was time to make a way…
* * * * * *
Sometimes, relentlessly searching for a solution can be an exercise in futility; the solution may simply not exist. Sometimes, you need to make a way by thinking outside the box.
I’ve spent months waiting…waiting for the winds to change and drop me, much like Dorothy, in a fantasy world of excitement and adventure. And although waiting isn’t always an inappropriate response to a situation (in fact, sometimes it’s quite necessary), waiting for perfection is a delusion.
Sometimes becoming seems to “just happen” without much effort on your part…and at other times, it takes more strength than you feel you have left to give. I don’t know which season this post finds you in, however, in the words of Ms. Mary Anne Evans (aka George Eliot), I do know that “it’s never too late.”
There is still time for you to fulfill your dreams—perhaps to eat gelato in Europe…adopt a rescue dog…or write that book you’ve been talking about writing for years… The trajectory of your life is anything but a straight line, and believe it or not, you can make a transfer at the station of “Despair” and get on the line headed towards “Hope,” or even “Joy” at any time of your choosing.
As with most things worthwhile, the hardest step is the first one. Although it may seem overwhelming to prepare for a successful long journey, just a bit of self-reflection and research can point you in the right direction. No need to impulsively hop on the first train that comes along because you’re tired of waiting, wondering, and questioning. Your train will come. Maybe it’s delayed…or maybe there’s a “road closed” sign you hadn’t noticed before…perhaps the delay is a necessary stumbling block to divert you from greater danger.
Sure, you may need to do a bit of backtracking in order to get to your “final destination,” and it may take a bit longer than you anticipated, but I beg you, please don’t be afraid to switch trains if you need to. Don’t wait to consult the Full Life metro map before making a move. Ask for help. You’ll figure it out eventually.
And in case you’re wondering, I too have discovered that I need to heed my own advice. I need to pop off the train I’m currently on (headed toward “Death & Destruction”). I need to admit defeat and ask for help in getting back to where I’m supposed to be. I need to actually open my proverbial suitcases full of wisdom and lessons learned that I have been simply toting around.
I need to stop waiting.
Book a plane ticket. Knock on closed doors. Get off the train. It’s not too late.
Make a way.