Many millennials are struggling to find their individual paths in life. Here’s a look at how to navigate the winding road.
I sit on my yoga mat, watching my yoga-training instructor draw a squiggly, swirling line on the page. Beside the curvy line is a straight line. She explains her basic diagram: most of us think life should be like the straight line, each event happening in a simple, chronological succession; but in reality, life is more like the messy line – the one that travels in many directions with no ultimate destination.
The path is not straight…
Or so reads the quote I have taped on my bathroom mirror in my new apartment located in a new city I recently moved to. The quote comes from Marion Winik’s Rules for the Unruly. It reads like this:
- The path is not straight.
- Mistakes need not be fatal.
- People are more important than achievements or possessions.
- Be gentle with your parents.
- Never stop doing what you care about most.
- Learn to use a semicolon.
- You will find love.
I first realized the meandering nature of my life path after graduating from university, when I slumped around my parents’ house for eight months, paralyzed by the thought of the future. I realized it when I finally dragged myself from the couch and my fears and moved across the country to start a new life. I realized it when I found myself on my yoga mat, soaking up all the information I could about being a yoga teacher.
The path is not straight.
A lot of millennials can relate to the feeling of panic that comes over you when life doesn’t work out in the progression you had planned. The traditional formula we know so well: go to university, get a job in your profession, fall in love, buy a house, start a family. In fact this feeling of panic is so prevalent in our generation, we even have a new term for it: the “quarter-life crisis.” But there’s a way to take the quarter-life crisis in stride and not fall apart.
The first step on the journey is understanding and accepting the path is not straight.
This means that it’s OK to go with the flow a little bit; it’s OK if you don’t have it all figured out. How are you supposed to have a 10-year plan mapped out when you don’t even know what will happen one year from now? Here are some steps I use to navigate the twisting path:
1. Take the opportunities as they come.
If an opportunity presents itself – one that makes you respond in a heartfelt way – take it. Don’t worry about where it might lead. Don’t listen to the doubts suggesting you can’t do it. Be open enough to answer the door when somebody knocks.
2. When you have nothing to do, do something.
The nature of the winding, squiggly path, is that there will be times when there are big empty spaces in your life, times when you are standing in-between different directions. Take advantage of those. Sometimes they lead to laziness and melancholy, but they can also lead to newfound passions and creative outlets. Take up a hobby, learn to play the guitar like you always wanted to, or write your own version of The Next Great Novel. Listen closely to what you really want to do and give it a try.
3. Change your mind.
Maybe when you were 15 you really wanted to be a veterinarian, but then at 22, after going to vet school for two years, you realize you really hate it. Change your mind. Give yourself permission to embark on a different path if you are not happy with the one you are on. This is your life, trust your gut and don’t listen to the critics.
4. Love the questions.
In our twenties, life is full of uncertainties and questions. So many questions – and many we don’t have the answers to. We’re told to follow our passions, and do what we love. But half the battle is finding what we really want. Learning to love the questions themselves, to enjoy the process of figuring out who you are and what you want, will make it a lot easier.
5. Be kind to yourself.
Experiencing doubt, fear and confusion is always uncomfortable and difficult. Be gentle and kind to yourself. You will find the answers, you will live the life you imagine, you will do all the cool and wonderful things that only you can do. For now, take it one step at a time and embrace the bumps along the way. The path is not straight, after all.