Good morning! This post starts where my last one left off, so — for added context — you might want to give that one a look. But, in short, every well-written character needs something that really motivates them. I’m writing a book about my nearly 2,200 mile on the Appalachian Trail and I’ve felt kind of stuck. I think the reason is because I got my motivation wrong.
Part of the problem is I was writing as if I had to have one motivation for the hike from start to finish. I’m now thinking that’s incorrect. A lot of things changed from Georgia to Maine, and I think my motivation for this journey was one of them.
What I Was Saying Motivated Me
Well, it’s all on the internet, actually. I called it “Finding my 10s.” Check it out.
The idea was something that I think is pretty universal. When we’re in relationships, we tend to sacrifice things for the good of the couple. That’s healthy to an extent. But I found myself — as I went from my 20s into my mid-30s — giving up more and more of the hobbies and interests I enjoyed. But it was okay, because — hey, I had this girlfriend and this is fun!
By the time I was in my 30s, I was enjoying my job less. I had been there for awhile. But that’s okay, too, because — hey, I had this girlfriend and this is fun!
So, a few months into a given relationship, my happiness was almost entirely dependent on this other person. And, oftentimes, what drew that person to me in the first place was I had other interests and a job I was was passionate about. Early in relationships I was kind of elusive because I was so busy with these other things. A few months in…that was no longer the case. I wasn’t the same person.
The relationship ends and 1) I’m dissatisfied with my job; 2) I have stopped doing the things I loved doing before the relationships; 3) everything I loved doing during the relationship is gone in an instant: I don’t want to watch the shows we used to watch together, I don’t want to do the hobbies we shared together, and I don’t want to go to the places we used to go together. Any friends I made through while we were together? They’re gone, too.
I said I was going on a hike to rediscover those things that made me happy. Things that — when a relationship ended — couldn’t be taken from me. A little bit of something I could retain control of. Things that would be mine to remember and cherish forever.
I think that’s a good reason to go on a journey. I had convinced myself it was why I was going on my journey. But — the more I think about it — I realize it’s not the reason I started hiking.
When I was 18 years old, I didn’t go to my graduation. I didn’t go to my prom, either. In fact, I skipped the whole last month of my senior year to join a traveling marching band.
When I finished college, I was about to get a job and start graduate school, but instead I moved to the mountains of western North Carolina in what amounted to a gap year of small hikes and service industry jobs.
A few years later, in my mid-20s, I moved to Asia. On and off for about three years, I taught and performed with marching bands in Japan, Thailand and Singapore. I traveled around those countries and others.
The similarity between each of these was that — while most of my friends moved through grad school and built their careers, families and salaries — I had a knack for these big, weird, unexpected adventures. When I would go home and hear about their jobs and their paychecks and their spouses and kids, it would have been easy to be aware of what I didn’t have. But at least I had these unique and memorable life experiences. It was something I, too, could be proud of.
But, as I entered and moved through my 30s, I became aware of a feeling of inadequacy (that, honestly, was always probably there). They had all these things you’re supposed to have when you get into your 30s…and I only had cool pictures, friends from distant places I was no longer keeping in touch with, and memories that were fading by the year.
In my 20s, it felt like anything was possible. I had big dreams for what I was going to do. I had a boss who said things like, “I can’t wait to see what you’ll be doing in 10 years!” and I had a dad who — when asked to write about their hero for a work meeting — chose to write about me.
The expectations for my life felt through the roof, and I had no doubt I’d meet those expectations.
But here I was, 10 years later, and I was doing nothing I thought I’d be doing. (Sound familiar, 30-year-olds?) “I can’t wait to see what you’ll be doing in 10 years!”? now sounded like that boss was mocking me. I had been in the same job for seven years, incapable of getting a promotion. I had given up most of the fun and interesting things about me because I couldn’t find room to pursue them while I balanced relationships….and now one of those relationships — one in which I thought I was doing all the right things to make it work — failed miserably leaving me lacking all the things social media told me everyone else had.
But there was something I did that very few other people did. Something I still had space in my life to do — that would make me look like I was making something of myself in my own unique way.
When I left my job, my boss asked me what I was planning to do next so she could include it in the newsletter in which they announced my departure. I didn’t have a next job planned…or anything planned. But I didn’t want to sound like a loser, which is exactly how I felt.
I walked around New Orleans that evening and listened to a podcast about the difference between “scary” and “dangerous.” I went home that night and I googled “Big adventures in March.” The Appalachian Trail was one of the returns. It takes six months. 2,189.7 miles.
Maybe I could do that. Who knows? At least it was an idea.
I went back to work the next day and told my boss to write that I was considering walking the Appalachian Trail. She said that sounded crazy in a good way, and just like something I’d do.
I went to the bar that night and told my friends I was thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail. They looked kind of worried about me — that this sounded kind of insane.
I missed the feeling of being the guy who was crazy in a good way. The guy who did insane things that hadn’t even occurred to other people.
Did I want to hike the Appalachian Trail? No way. But I was addicted to that feeling of being unique. If I couldn’t have romance, and promotions, and a family…at least I could have this.
If my old boss from 10 years ago saw it, she’d see she was right to wonder about the amazing things I’d be doing. If my Dad could look down on me from heaven, he’d see he was right to call me his hero. And, of course, I still hoped that if my ex-girlfriend saw it…she might be impressed.
To be clear, I recognize this is not a “good” reason to go on a journey. But the more I talked about it, and the more the people around me talked about it, the more I felt stuck. I was terrified to do this hike. I didn’t know the first thing about long-distance hiking. But I really liked the feeling of other people thinking I was going to do it.
So, even though it was a bad motivation, it was my motivation.
At least to start. Like I said in my last post, my motivation changed over time, and that’s what the book is about. But this is how it began.
And if life isn’t going quite the way YOU imagined. Join the club, and feel free to share some of your story in the comments. I’m interested in knowing how universal this feeling is as I write about it.