Monday, September 15, 2014

Lost & Found

Growing up, I was always looking for someone who was going to lead me into the "thing" I was supposed to be doing with my life. I never really outgrew that idea. I had read stories, articles in newspapers and magazines, and heard personal experiences from a number of individuals who were happily going about their life's ambition. They would always have a person they'd credit as recognizing their talents and helping to guide them into the person they'd become. Perhaps it's the part of me that enjoys living in a bit of a fantasy world, but I fully expected this to be the case for me too. When routinely chosen last for sports and doing well enough academically to get through without much notice, it almost feels as though there must be some sort of fairy godmother out waiting to point out the thing that makes me special - that thing that I would excel doing - that thing that would cause me to wake up one day and say ah, yes, I really do have something I'm great at.
To my astonishment, that never happened for me (perhaps I'm not the only one who never had that person come to help point him/her in the right direction). For me, it was devastating to get all the way through school and have to acknowledge that the fantasy I'd been living since my very young years might never happen. It's difficult to let go of such things though.

Everyone wants to believe s/he is good at something. Some people are great at lots of things, while others seem to really be able to focus in on one in particular and it charts a course for his/her entire life. Much as I hate to fess up to it, I can become really jealous of these people. I have always been more of a wanderer, a passer-by, or a curious dabbler, dipping my toes in the water of a lot of different things, always trying to find that one place, activity, skill that had eluded me my entire life. I get by in life this way because I have always been willing to work hard at whatever was in front of me. I've been hired to do jobs that I was in no way qualified to hold, but when it was something that I truly wanted to experience I always found a way to get the knowledge I needed and convince the hiring individual(s) that I was the one they needed - even when I doubted myself. Maybe it's one of the reasons I found myself on the other side of the hiring chair for several years, working to find the right individuals to work for companies. After all, it's hard to bullshit a bullshitter (though a few did sneak by me on occasion). That, and I genuinely enjoyed bringing people and a company together to form a great union.

My personal life has a lot of parallels with my professional life. I am great at providing what seems to be extensive information about myself without really getting to the core or exactness of anything. I'm not proud of that fact, and I don't do it intentionally - or I suppose more accurately, I don't do it consciously - but I think it's a protective buffer of sorts that allows me to check people out before really giving up too much of myself.

When it comes to athletic endeavors, I think my junior high school gym teacher put it aptly after I'd finished running one of the last of our weekly miles, heaving and attempting to regain regular breathing. She stated emphatically, "You will never be a track star." Well, duh. I was about 50 pounds overweight, short legs, with no desire to be a runner... and I could barely run the entire mile without passing out. Most of my time in school to that point I couldn't run the full mile, so to be able to reach the point that I could actually run the whole distance was a feat in itself. We're not all supposed to be track stars. I will say this though, I always gave it everything I had. I hated running with a passion (still don't love it to this day), but I was determined to be able to run the entire four laps of the track, which I accomplished without so much as an acknowledgement that I'd achieved something that seemed impossible months before. It didn't matter that everyone else could easily do it; what mattered is that I couldn't and I was able to overcome the mental and physical barriers to achieve a goal, no thanks to my gym teacher (who could've easily offered a few pointers to help me out).

One of the things I've learned as time has passed is that I can't always wait for someone to come and tell me what I should be doing. If I had waited for that magical, non-existent fairy or godmother to come along and point me down the proper path, I probably wouldn't have experienced so many different avenues in life. I'll put it this way: Some people take the same route to work every single day no matter what. I was never one of them. I like changing up the path and finding ways that seem ridiculous or out of the way. Sometimes the best kept secrets, adventures, and lessons are found by not choosing the path considered normal, safe, or most efficient. There are times this gets me in to trouble, but I often find that the trouble is worth the reward.

As I've gotten older, it's become easier and easier to lose some of that free-spirited, spur-of-the moment nature that lurks inside.  The person who intentionally sought out new paths is slowly disappearing. Maybe it's age, or I suppose it's possible some might say wisdom, but I find myself in moments realizing that I've made a choice I wouldn't have made 15-20 years ago. At times, I choose the path that seems safer over the one offering an unknown experience, and I'm surprised at my decision. Those decisions seem to slowly be taking over the let's-just-go-for-it side of me.
Bicycles, in many ways, have helped the spirit of wanting to see and experience new things. Riding a bike can be routine, if I allow it to be, but there is always a new path, a new adventure, another small (or even big) secret to uncover if I am open to it and ready to make that choice. Just as in life though, it's sometimes easier to make the safe choice and go with the route I know. I find myself choosing these known paths more often than not lately. In truth, there are only a finite number of paths I can take right out the front door. At some point, they all become known and seen and maybe even routine.

Seasons change though, which can help bring new perspective. There is a part of me looking for that lost piece of self when I ride a bike, I think. Even on a known path, the outcome really cannot be entirely known until I'm on the other side. I think I'm slowly finding her again - that person who chooses adventure over routine, who makes last minute decisions and lives with the consequences, who doesn't necessarily make the most logical choice just because it's what she's supposed to do. I know that personal history is always going to play a role in the future, and experience will provide some level of importance and prevalence as time marches on, but I hope I always hang on to a piece of that person who looks for the unknown and adventure in life, and I think bicycles are one of the best ways to keep her in reach.

10 comments:

  1. Love this post. I can relate to your attitude about finding your way. Lately, I've floundered, seeking a job that that doesn't exist, nor do I know what I'm interested in, really. Other than I want to work closer to home, which is limiting, but I'm sticking with my guns on this one. And now that I'm in my 50s, it's harder to get motivated. But through all this I'm basically a happy person and with bikes in my life, every ride is an adventure.

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    1. It's kind of amazing how much happiness a bicycle can bring. I would've never thought it at one point in time.

      Personally, I think I'm going through a bit of a reflective period, attempting to figure out where I'm supposed to be. Sometimes it just feels as though there has to be something else. I'm finding myself fighting the idea that we have to live a certain way or have a certain occupation in order to find satisfaction in life. Maybe I've just been reading far too much and it's making me want to live a simpler, less-encumbered life. I'm not entirely sure... but I'm glad to have the space and time to think about it all on a bike! :O)

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    2. Its interesting to me that your dream was to have someone to lead you to the answer. It has never occurred to me that there was someone out there to do that for me. I wonder if the reason I think that way is a gender thing, or the end result of my heritage.

      When I tracked my family history back, I learned that the line of my surname came to America about 1730. Then, over the next ten generations, I descended from the line of sons that did not get the family farm, and had to move west. Did this life, the need to move on over ten generations erase my confidence in reliance on others?

      I was back in Hartford, CT last week for business. Whenever I go to New England, it fascinates me to see the small towns, the mom & pop business, the people that have lived where there family has been established for many generations. It makes me jealous.

      Anyway G.E., it is good that you think of these things now. I wish I had when I was your age.

      Riding a bike for me is the one activity I've been able to stick to over the years. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Wether the accomplishment was that big hill, a faster time than normal, that I rode five times this week, or even if I did not get run over by two tons of steel.

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    3. Some days it really does feel as though not getting run over is a huge deal. There are far too many close calls and I find myself concerned that one day it will no longer be a close call and I'll actually be hit.

      I don't know that I was ever looking for someone to lead me to an answer, but I think I always thought that there would be someone to point out something that I hadn't noticed prior and I'd suddenly have a grand epiphany about my life and the direction I was going. I certainly don't want anything to come too easily in life though because I don't think I would appreciate it if it did.

      Sam likes to remind me that I have worked hard for everything I've achieved in life and it's okay that there hasn't been that person along the way... that maybe I'm supposed to be that person for someone else instead. It's a strange thought for someone who's always been looking for someone else to come along and offer their thoughts that instead perhaps the role will be reversed one day. In many ways, I think that gives me a certain level of satisfaction as well. I've always been more patient as a teacher than a student anyway. :O)

      It's interesting that you bring up ancestry. I've heard so many stories about both sides of my family and I often wonder how much of it is true. The little research I've done hasn't been very fruitful, but I love getting to know more about who the relatives were that I never knew. I do think it helps explain a lot of the things that feel unique to my immediate family. Like you though, I love to see the family businesses that get passed down to generations. I have no idea what that must be like (though I'm sure there are some who'd prefer not to have that already planned for them). My father was supposed to take over his family farm in Pennsylvania, but he was not about to make that his life. He moved all the way to the opposite side of the country just to avoid any possibility of that happening. I have to respect the fact that he wanted to make his own decisions, but I sometimes wonder what life would be like now if he'd decided to stick around the farm.

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  2. What a lovely reflection. I can relate. While I am grateful to have found my passion and to be able to make a living at it, I am sometimes wistful for the unbounded sense of life that I had as a kid. Don't get me wrong: I love the people and causes that bind me. It's just that I miss that sense of wonder that comes with fundamentally not knowing who you will become.

    Something about the bike restores a taste of that for me. Remember the incredible freedom and independence that came with riding a bike when you were a kid, in the days before you could drive? I remember feeling like I was flying -- pushing hard through the rush of air, hurtling down a gravel road just to see what was there, pushing myself up hills instead of learning to use the gears on my 10-speed. Now I am may arrive at work as a middle-aged respectable professional, but on the way there I am 13 years old, and I am flying!

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    1. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who refused to shift. :O) I remember we had an overpass near our home at one point and trying to get to the top was so brutal, but I enjoyed it.

      I definitely love that I can still have those feelings of youth even in adulthood... and it's nice to know others have similar feelings/thoughts.

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    2. For the longest time I also didn't use brakes to stop. I had a kick-back three speed with a coaster brake. It was a "girl's bike," which meant step-through. I used to use the brake to slow down and then just jump off when I was ready to stop!

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    3. Love it, Kendra! I haven't seen a kick-back in so long - though I've heard that some are using a version of it today on their more modern city bikes.

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  3. Great post. Like you, I was always hoping that I would figure out that one thing I was supposed to do in life, but I am still searching. It's rare for me to have moments where I feel settled about where I am and what I'm doing. One of the reasons I love bike touring so much is that it makes that constant questioning and searching go quiet for a while.

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    1. I can understand how touring would likely help relieve some of the thoughts. I think one of my goals is to attempt to keep my legs over winter so that I can get into some longer distances next year.

      As always, it's nice to know I'm not alone in these thoughts that sometimes plague me. :O)

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