Venturing out in a new and unknown place

This week, we're so pleased to feature a note from the wonderful Sara Watson. Enjoy!

I’m the dork that was the first person to RSVP to my 10-year high school class reunion. After spending the last two years abroad, I was eager to return home to see friends and familiar faces.

Our class president struggled to get people to RSVP, resorting to social pressure among close-knit circles of friends via Facebook.

And that’s just it. We’re all there on Facebook. We were a class of just under 100 students by senior year, and most of us found each other on Facebook in the intervening years. I have a good sense of where people have moved to, where they are working these days. I know who has gotten married, who just had a baby (or four). I know who never left our hometown. Who’s running marathons. Who’s had a family member pass away.

And I think that’s the trouble. That’s the stuff of what reunions were supposed to be for — keeping in touch with the acquaintances you knew well enough from years growing up in the same building together, but only enough to care about those big picture details. Where did you end up, what are you doing now. We get those details from Facebook, bypassing the awkward interaction over finger foods and well drinks, rife with our shared adolescent history.

Yet, somehow having those grainy details already out of the way meant that we ended up having more substantive conversations before stepping away for the chicken satay. And somehow those conversations actually ended up feeling a little more real, and a little less superficial. We bonded over impending trips to Asia, wedding planning strategies, late-20s career insecurities.

Even in an age of Facebook, where we can keep tabs on whoever we want, there’s something worthwhile in the face-to-face gathering in our old stomping grounds to note the passage of time. There’s something grounding about taking a moment out of the stream to plant a stake in the ground for ten years passed. And there’s something special about doing it with the people who were there through those fraught and formative adolescent years. — Sara

Prompted

Last week's dispatch asked, When was the last time you were lost?

Jon wrote:

Discovery Park, in Seattle, is wonderfully large. I got lost there on a hike with my 5 year old son and twin baby girls. There was no need to alarm them, so I never told them we were lost. People think leadership is knowing where you're going, but I think it's understanding what the group needs and being able to provide whatever necessary to get there. Even when you feel just as lost as everyone else. Especially then.

Erin wrote:

A few years ago, I studied abroad in France. The last week I was in Europe, I went on a whirlwind solo-trip to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. While in Vienna, I took the bus to the cemetery where Mozart is buried, which is nowhere near the center of town and out of the way. I had no problem getting there, but I got lost on the way back. Though I speak French and Spanish, I don't speak a lick of German and the bus routes were already confusing. I must have missed my stop, or gotten on a wrong bus, because all of a sudden I was nowhere near where I wanted to be. Rather than stressing out, though, I wandered around a little churchyard, enjoying the moment before trying to tackle the bus again. I eventually situated myself and found my way back near my hostel.

Come to think of it, I got lost another time during that same stay in Vienna. I saw an opera at the State Opera House (for only €3!) and tried to take a scenic walk back, but ended up going in this huge roundabout way. That was a little nerve-wracking, only because I was walking alone as a female in a foreign city at night. Luckily, I made it back safely to my hostel and enjoyed a pint at a nearby cafe before bed.

I highly recommend traveling alone at least once, or venturing out in a new and unknown place on your own, and maybe even getting a little lost because it's an entirely different and exciting experience.

Krista Anne wrote:

The last time I was lost was last night, on the way to my old high school to give a lecture to some parents. It freaks my family and friends out (and it makes my boyfriend laugh, uncomfortably) when I get lost driving a route I should know like the back of my hand. While a lot of the time it is stressful and frustrating for me, I also kind of like what it says about my mind. I see the landscape as new and unmarked each time...

Ryan wrote:

I rarely get lost. Maybe that says something about me and my lack of adventurous spirit, but even when I do get lost it doesn’t dismay me. I grew up in a city, and when I first learned to drive I got lost all the time, frequently resorting to the foldout map I kept in the pocket of my driver’s side door.

I remember the last time I felt lost, though. My wife and I were moving to Los Angeles from Indiana, and we had packed everything into our small pickup truck and even smaller trailer. Taking a deep breath and hugging our parents goodbye, we started off down the road. 10 hours in, just after the sun set over Iowa, one our wheels nearly fell off, breaking all the posts for the lug nuts. We managed to pull into a truck stop, where we holed up in the cramped cab of the truck to sleep. With my leg threaded through the steering wheel, I tried to turn off my brain, but I couldn’t stop wondering how long we would be stuck in this tiny town, and how much of our meager seed money would get eaten up by the repairs.

And then it started to rain. I can think of few times in my life that have felt more desperate and anxious. Fortunately, dawn eventually came, a nice truck stop employee drove me into town to get parts, and I was able to patch the truck together well enough to limp to the nearest shop. The owners fixed us up without the typical overcharging for out-of-towners, handed us a box of freshly-harvested corn for good measure, and sent us back to the highway, feeling oddly light of spirit as our adventure continued.

Danielle wrote:

Today! Yesterday! Everyday and repeatedly for the last month! Moving to Portland meant I could count on getting lost, a lot. Today, I decided using my phone meant given up when the answer was right in front of me (like using a calculator in pre-calculus.) I saw a familiar bridge to head west over the Willamette and I just kept driving until I ended up where I needed to be. My mental self-talk stayed chill though. It made me recall driving in my early years with my little Scirocco and what it was like to wander confidently into the unknown.

Andrew wrote:

I was always the cautious child. I often shied away from the new and potentially dangerous. I thrived on routine, and loved predictability. My adult life has been a study in breaking those habits.

I was antisocial, I became a student ambassador at my university. I was timid with crowds, I became a TA and lecturer. I was unsure of my skill in science, I became a computer scientist. I was afraid of leaving a job I didn't like. I left the job and I'm starting my own web development company. I was afraid of performing music, I'm writing an album.

There are dozens of platitudes and mantras that tell you to seize the day. A hundred greeting cards and children's TV specials that say to chase your dreams. A backlog of movies that say to take control, wrest it from the man, and own your life. But the world doesn't want that of you, and the mantras and the stories and the sales pitches are unlikely to convince you. This change cannot be external. Only you can seize your day. Only you can make your dreams. This is a thing you must want, and a thing you must be willing to work for.

I am scared that my business will fail, and my album won't be good. I am scared I won't get research published, and my lecture series will be a flop. But the uncertainty of trying is forever preferable to the certainty of staying the same. I am a man in a raft on the ocean. Once on an island, now adrift. My map is old and tattered, and my direction uncertain. My path is subject to the whims of changing winds. But the places I may reach and the wonders I may see are greater than anything I would see back on that little home of sand and rock. So I'll brave the storms and withstand the sun, and even if I don't get where I meant, I'll get further than I ever would have otherwise.

Uncommon reads

Technology Is Not Driving Us Apart After All by Mark Oppenheimer:

“We’re really bad at looking back in time,” Hampton said, speaking of his fellow sociologists. “You overly idealize the past. It happens today when we talk about technology. We say: ‘Oh, technology, making us isolated. We’re disengaged.’ Compared to what?"

While at M.I.T., Hampton grew curious about mobile-phone use in public. Are we really all just walking around tapping and tweeting and texting and ignoring our fellow human beings? Was there a pre-smartphone Eden?

In Praise of Depth by Tony Schwartz:

We don’t need more bits and bytes of information, or more frequent updates about each other’s modest daily accomplishments. What we need instead is more wisdom, insight, understanding and discernment — less quantity, higher quality; less breadth and more depth.

Q&A on Conscious Computing with Linda Stone:

I started to notice that there was a tremendous amount of discussion around disconnecting. I find something about this conversation really troubling. It sounds like the conversation around dieting that doesn't work: “I shouldn’t eat the cookie. I shouldn’t eat the cookie. I shouldn’t eat the cookie.”

When we think, “It would be great to eat an apple,” we do much better. Understanding which behaviors we want to build into our lives, rather than which behaviors we want to take away, is much more effective.

Your turn

What three words would others use to describe you in high school? What three words would you use?