Cheryl Strayed put herself through hell for an impulsive decision: a long, dangerous hike that would last for months and months on end, all on her own. Julie Powell embarked on a crazy, intense, frustrating journey: she vowed to cook her way through a 524 recipe book in one year. – while working full time in a boring office. Elizabeth Gilbert went on a long, painful and exciting trip around the world.
What a beautiful and intriguing pattern. These are all strong, inspiring women (well maybe except for Julie Powell a little bit – I mean, I read her second book, and come on, woman!) that hit a wall in their life. They felt lost, confused, done. One felt like she had lost everything, one felt extremely frustrated and like a big loser, one had gone through a divorce. So in order to fix themselves and their messy lives they all took extreme measures. Similar approaches and yet, very different ways to go about it.
I read Wild a while ago and I remember being inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s story, by her intensity and drive, but most of the time I’d just feel so incredibly frustrated at her stubbornness. Going through the pages I would get annoyed by her stupid decision to continue on this hike that many times proved to be dangerous and meaningless. She had unbearable blisters on her feet, no idea how to survive in the woods, there were creepy men along the way, there snakes and wild animals everywhere, she barely had enough food and water, and I found myself growing increasingly anxious as I went through it. I just could not relate to it at all.
I remember watching Julie and Julia and loving it. I love baking and cooking, as well as sweet coming-of-age stories and this one seemed to fit the narrative perfectly. It’s beautiful to watch and I was mesmerized by all the ingredients and all the cooking, and just fascinated by Julie’s self-imposed challenge to cook all the recipes within the year. Then I read the book and realized how big a commitment it actually was. She would cook until 3 in the morning and get up at 7 to go to work the next day. She powered through it. She took no break. For what?, I wondered. I mean, she’s tired. Just go home and relax tonight, right? So, I didn’t exactly relate to this one either.
Then, there’s Elizabeth Gilbert. This one’s easy because I’ve only seemed the movie so far, but to be honest, between the being confused and lost, and the eating amazing pasta in Italy and riding bikes on a Tuesday afternoon in Bali…well that sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I bet it wasn’t easy, but I’m guessing it might be a tad exciting to go look for yourself that way. But still, there were challenges there, let’s acknowledge that.
So now we get to here. To this point in my life. To my Cheryl-Strayed-Julie-Powell-Elizabeth-Gilbert moment, the one I never imagined going through, the one I’m trying to navigate as a millennial woman. And what a time to be alive! We move through life without a known script and look for solace and guidance in other people’s stories, but in reality no one knows what they’re doing. It’s like growing up and realizing that grownups actually have no idea what they’re doing and they’re just winging it half the time. What a mortifying, shocking and strangely liberating realization!
So, here we are, I’m facing my own roadblock. I’m feeling confused and lost and in search of a purpose. I decide to move to Germany! It sounds like a great idea: I need a challenge. I need inspiration, structure, purpose. The Germans will teach me discipline, right? It never truly occurred to me, but moving to Germany was my roadblock moment. I reach this world shattering conclusion because guess what! I still feel that way sometimes – lost, confused and all the in between. Marvelous... And I guess that was my way to deal with my own adversities. Not by hiking or climbing an impossible mountain, not by cooking a new recipe every single day for a year or going on inspiring, year long trips across multiple countries.
Then it hit me. Suddenly I feel connected to these women on a personal level. I get why Cheryl insisted so hard on finishing that damn hike, even if it cost her life or her sanity. I understand why Julie Powell didn’t sleep for a whole year, and cooked three recipes on a single night after a long day at work and didn’t give up even when she was so close to madness. I understand why Elizabeth Gilbert put all her savings on this aimless, year long trip looking for everything and nothing. They were in search of something much bigger than themselves. They were in search of purpose and life and they needed waking up. And only by doing something much bigger than themselves, only by risking their status quo and their sanity and deeply committing to it like a mad person were they able to see the light.
They had no idea what they were looking for or where these experiences would take them, but these challenges gave them a reason to wake up every morning and power through the day. Even if just for the sake of it. And look what happened to them. They all went ahead and got book deals and became New York Times bestseller authors out of it!
So here’s the moral of the story: stick to a crazy, stupid plan and become a successful author!
No wait, here’s the real moral of the story: find something, anything to commit to and stick with it. Build resilience and patience and learn to live life so things can fall into place. Makes sense? I don’t know the answer yet because I moved to Germany and then that was it for a while. But that was just the beginning. Now I need my own crazy challenge, my own road to sanity and insanity, and eventually myself. I recently heard something that stuck with me: failure is just a pit stop on the way to success. And I need a new beginning. Any suggestions or stories you’d like to share with this poor soul in search of enlightenment?
I’ll work on my fears and failures..I’ll see you on the other side.