In Bill Plotkin’s excellent essay, “The Art of Being Lost,” he writes of the different types of lostness: You know where you are but not where you are going; you know where you want to go but not where you are; you know neither where you are going, nor where you are.
Some months ago, I wrote about getting lost in the woods of Vermont, how getting lost seems to be part of the way I move through the world sometimes. I find my way, but it’s not always to the destination I expected, and I don’t often take a straight, clear path. It’s hard to be honest about this, especially in the face of life-altering forks in the road. Lately I’ve been interviewing with graduate schools, and most aren’t too keen on a candidate who finds her way by wandering on all the various different paths she finds appealing at any given moment. But that is, in fact, what I do, and only in retrospect does a coherent theme become clear. I’ve learned to trust that wandering instinct, but it has taken a long time. Perhaps it makes sense that most psychology programs seem more apt to trust the candidate who is devoted to one path and one alone, never deviating. That, certainly, is more predictable. But I find it difficult to get excited about that prospect, or about studying in a place where such a thing would be expected and valued.
So I find myself becoming acquainted with one of Plotkin’s central truths about being lost, that it is possible to benefit from it, if one is willing to give up old goals in favor of new, more soulful ones. It may be that the old destination is not actually worth reaching.
I looked at my journal from that time in Vermont and recalled what had come to me on that walk on which I got lost to begin with, that the point was not to conform to a teacher’s (or program’s) ideals; the point was to find a teacher who would support an unusual sense of direction.