Losing the Way
3-minute read

Losing your way is far more common than seems fair in life. One moment you’re trudging along happily, the world seems organized, you have goals — a purpose that seems legit — and then bam! everything goes haywire and nothing makes sense anymore. Why am I here, and what should I do next, you wonder. This is, of course, true both on a literal level when you’re walking along a road and take a wrong turn, as well as on a metaphorical level when you wake up some day at 2am. In all cases, you can easily see (in retrospect) that it’s all just a matter of perspective. Perhaps it’s also specifically the distortion of perspective that you once had, and are forced to look up in your records, re-evaluate, or even reconstruct from first principles.

Sense-making, or the act of bestowing subjective and actionable meaning upon the world around us, is a very human endeavor. Perhaps intelligent species like mice and dolphins do this as well (I reject the human-centric view in general), but it correlates with the degree of agency that you feel with respect to the actions that you take. It’s like you’re driving your car on a road trip with your itinerary mapped out, and suddenly realize you’ve forgotten where you’re heading. Or some volcano erupts and you’re forced to drive down an evacuation route.

The meaning we bestow on the world is influenced by the vision we create for ourselves. One person looks at a computer and sees it as a tool to pay his bills. When I look at a computer I see it as a portal for reaching in and crafting a vast system within the abstract world of software. Somewhere along the way we created a directionality to our lives that influences the way we perceive everything around us. A vision speaks to the final destination (with the caveat that nothing is ever final), and clarity of vision means that we’ve rationalized our heading and know when to course correct. And all that sounds great, except that in reality there’s a dense smoky fog around you, the smoke makes you sputter, you keep tripping and falling along the way, and the oasis you saw in the distance was just a mirage.

I recently finished reading Arnold Schwarz­enegger’s audiobook “Be Usefulon Spotify. One point that struck me was it is likely the case that we create the seeds of our visions early in life. And then, we take that seed and nurture it into something with greater definition. This, in turn, suggests that we already kinda sorta know what our vision is, and just have to work on refining it. And it gives me hope, for it suggests that we don’t ever really lose our way, we just need to rediscover and refine it from time to time. This is a process, not a catastrophe. After all, if something is “lost” and later found, was it ever lost in the first place?