A couple weeks ago, I met my hero in my own living room. He was in his early 20s with a tacky outfit and and a cheap haircut, sitting in a chair by the window. After eavesdropping on his conversation, I gathered that he was from Texas, so I, having grown up in Dallas, decided to introduce myself.
Half-an-hour or so into our talk, I was able to piece together the story of who he was and how he found his way into my house:
Months ago, he graduated from a small college in rural Texas but didn’t yet want to join the workforce and sell his soul to the highest bidder. Instead, he decided, he would sell everything he owned, change his phone number and travel the country until he ran out of money.
At the end of the trip, he expected himself to have a better idea of where and how he wanted to live, which would allow him to feel comfortable about settling down and starting a job. Ithaca, of all places, was a stop on this trip, so here he was, at the Cornell chapter of his college fraternity, happy to finally sit and sleep somewhere other than the hot leather seats of his minivan.
In my mind, this guy wasn’t the run-of-the-mill visitor. He had guts. He was doing the one thing I always threaten myself I’ll do if life doesn’t work out my way: he just disappeared and started over.
After our conversation, I realized we aren’t nearly as different as I’d initially assumed. At the core of it all, both of our lives right now are about exploration, discovery and wandering. We are both terrified of missing what’s best for us, so we bounce around in order to try everything, whether that means moving from city to city or career path to career path or girl to girl. At the end of each stint, we look in the mirror with a hint of confusion, unsure if we are losing ourselves or finding ourselves at long last.
In truth, you don’t have to leave your friends behind and live in a car to be a wanderer. You just have to be terrified of a life in which you didn’t try everything. In this way, I have a feeling that there are a lot of people like my temporary tenant and me, especially in college.
This propensity to wander, whether mentally or physically, is characteristic of young adults and has made the millennial generation push back the clock and “settle down” at a much later date. Pew Research findings reveal that Millennials tend to get married later than those of previous generations and are much less likely to buy homes at a young age. We want to try every job, every place, every person before we get stuck with one of each. We can’t imagine becoming predictable just yet; for now, we are too busy driving across the country or too attracted to the idea of being able to leave our surroundings at a moment’s notice.
I think it’s fine to crave new experiences, to want more for ourselves, to cringe at the idea of settling for less than the best. But sometimes it’s easy to get lost in this mindset. Sometimes we spend so much time trying everything that we end up doing nothing. And that’s dangerous.
We can avoid that, though. Most of us wanderers come around at some point. Eventually, our friends, our wallets or our loneliness convinces us to make definitive choices about the directions of our lives and once these decisions are made, we learn to make the most of their consequences.
But until then, I’m happy I feel the need to explore and change and question myself in order to curb my fear and confusion. In my opinion, that’s how life is supposed to happen. In the words of Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild, “nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future” The prospect of figuring ourselves out as we go along can provide us with opportunities to build up an arsenal of scattered experiences to inform us for years to come.
So here’s to the folks who are willing to take impromptu trips to God knows where, the folks who change their majors as much as their outfits, the folks who are obsessed with new experiences because they don’t know what satisfies them yet. We may seem aimless now, but in the end we’ll have a good idea of how the world works and, if nothing else, a few great stories to tell our kids.
Paul Russell is a sophomore in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russelling Feathers appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.