Have you ever had a break down? The kind of breakdown where everything completely spun out of control – where you felt no support underneath your feet, saw no way out of your situation? He was dreaming of a better life but even his dreams were haunted with storms of emotions and cascading problems. When he woke up, life and school pressures were so much that he couldn’t study, he couldn’t absorb information, he said he felt like “his brain was broken.” He had recently finished an internship at an engineering firm where he was disillusioned by his boss’ deceitful and uninspired practices. He did not believe in what the company was doing anymore. On top of being burnt out by the pressures of his highly competitive classes, he was now disenchanted with the field he was trying to get a degree in.
Josh no longer wanted to pursue the subject he was studying. He was overwhelmingly stressed by the college environment, and he saw no clear purpose where he was. So, he took time off of college. He took a break and to some of his peers he may have seemed weak. The judgements of his peers came from a place of fear. Subconsciously, they asked themselves- what would happen if I dropped out from the best public university in the country? What if the next few years’ path wasn’t laid out for me? As young adults, we are taught to be fearful of the future just by the amount of pressure we get to do well in school. We are constantly pushed to do better no matter what our grades are. These days, middle class parents start to stress out about their kids’ futures earlier and earlier. They pay ridiculous amounts of money and do an impalpable amount of schmoozing just to get their three year olds into to a “good” grade school. I know, we are lucky to have parents that care, and I know those of us who get into college are lucky to have been accepted and to be able to have it paid for in one way or another. Not everyone has these opportunities, but beyond these fortunes there are also challenges and some of the repercussions of these challenges are what I am addressing in this article.
In spite of the judgements he may have received from his peers, Josh’s decision to take a leave of absence actually allowed him to become much stronger than most people his age. It allowed him to really decide what he wants rather than follow societal expectations. He was able to step out of the mold and see the possibilities in front him for what they were. He was able to escape the superficial cement-hard road laid out in front of him, and connect to a more natural organic path.
When Josh took time off he was fortunate enough to come across and be able to enroll in a program called Outward Bound. This program takes you out of your comfort zone and teaches you how to be a problem solver and leader by taking you on challenging outdoor adventures. While on this trip, Josh did a lot of thinking and soul searching. At one point he was riding on a bus through a desert in Arizona and he had the booklet of college classes in his hands. This booklet was hefty with lots of choices. Looking out the window onto vast landscapes, his previous troubles began to seem small and he was able to narrow down his class choices. Josh was now convinced that he wanted to keep the science edge he already developed while studying engineering. He knew that he loved nature and wanted to work to preserve it. He was happy to be out of the big city where he wasn’t bombarded with the pressures of the words “should,” “can’t”, and “future.” Out in the desert, the words were “relax,” “I can” and “right now.” Right then, in that moment, Josh finally saw potential. He felt clarity and he no longer sensed fear. His solution to feeling better and finding himself was that simple – connection to nature. A disconnect from the binding world of structure, grades, judgements, and mounds of well intentioned yet skewed advice.
The realization that we each get to experience life in our own way- if we make that choice -is what got Josh back into school. He took an environmental science class, after which he decided to get into Urban Planning and concentrate on water resource management. He says, “I can’t say that every day I’m making a huge difference but a lot of the work we do on the whole is planning with the environment in mind.” I think he’s being humble and he understands the governmental financial and resource restrictions he has to work with in order to get his job done. However, he’s the minority – he doesn’t complain about his job. Instead, he’s someone who can’t stop talking about it because he gets so excited about all the possibilities at his fingertips.
Can connecting back to nature solve all of our life questions and find us all jobs we love? I’m not sure. What I do know is that it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt to look out on or look up at what’s out there and see the problems you’ve watched grow bigger and bigger in your mind get a little smaller. It doesn’t hurt to take a chance and get yourself out of the world that seems to suffocate you. It helps to look beyond what you know and to ask questions. It helps to not let other people’s fears affect your decisions.
“Into the Wild,” is an autobiographical movie of a young man who escapes society and attempts to survive in the Alaskan wilderness. There’s an award winning Eddie Vedder Song that encircles the film called Guaranteed. I sometimes picture Josh, biking to work with this song playing in the background and these lyrics surrounding him. It makes me smile big.
everyone i come across, in cages they bought
they think of me and my wandering, but I’m never what they thought
i’ve got my indignation, but i’m pure in all my thoughts
wind in my hair, i feel part of everywhere
underneath my being is a road that disappeared
late at night i hear the trees, they’re singing with the dead
leave it to me as i find a way to be
consider me a satellite, forever orbiting
i knew all the rules, but the rules did not know me