How To Embrace Being Lost
Lessons From A Night In Venice
One night about five years ago I got lost in Venice, Italy.
I can think of worse places to be lost, to be honest.
First of all, in Venice you can’t REALLY get lost because the paths all end somewhere. It’s not like you will suddenly find yourself in another city if you keep walking.
No, before you have a chance of getting REALLY lost, you will literally hit a brick wall.
Or maybe a canal.
Secondly, around every corner you are likely to find any (or all) of the following: a pizza place, a gelato place, a jewelry or mask store, or a church.
And thirdly, it’s Italy.
No one really minds getting lost in Italy.
I mean, if you’re not late for something, then who cares?
You may FEEL lost, but it’s more of an adventure than a real case of being lost.
Such is the case with life, I’ve found.
Lost And Found
I was in Venice with my nieces and nephews for a couple of nights, and we had all scattered in different directions for the night. I chose to wander with Jennifer and Marc, and I had decided that I was not in charge.
This was a pretty big thing for me, as I love to travel, and I love to organize, so letting go of direction and plans required a big effort.
But Jenn and Marc were 21 and 20, and so I just kind of followed them and we wandered together.
It was a gorgeous warm night and we shopped and ate and found twists and turns that led us to all kinds of treasures that weren’t on the map and we had a great time.
Until we couldn’t figure out where we were.
The two of them held the map one way and another way.
We went down alleys and across bridges and found ourselves back at the beginning.
And all the while I just hung back and enjoyed the serendipity of the whole thing.
At one point we turned a corner and there was an incredible aroma of fresh pizza coming from a pass-through window where passers-by could buy a slice. Of course I had to stop and have some.
And I kid you not, at the moment I took a bite, a chorus burst out in song from a nearby church — obviously it was a church practice and not the heavenly choirs celebrating a perfect slice, but still.
It was a pretty awesome experience and high on my list of travel memories.
Eventually we stopped looking at the map and just started wandering around, knowing that we couldn’t really get that far.
And finally, after at least an hour of wandering, we recognized a landmark and figured out where we were.
We stopped trying so hard, and suddenly we weren’t lost anymore.
4 Life Lessons From Being Lost In Venice
There are many ways to feel lost, even without travelling .
Most of the blips that make us feel lost represent some kind of a “change event” in our lives, and sometimes we just stare at that change for a while and have no idea what to do.
That’s why we feel lost.
Instead of a nice easy-to-follow map, we see a jumble of options written in what seems to be a foreign language.
We can’t see how one step leads to the next because we don’t even know what our goal is or where we are trying to go.
Maybe we’re facing a big decision (new job, new school, new city), or maybe we’re grieving the loss of someone (friend, family, partner), or maybe we’ve just got an unsettled feeling, like change is coming but we’re not sure what it is or when it will get here.
Is this you? Do you feel lost in this or a similar way?
If I could fly you to Italy to chat about your decision(s) over a slice of pizza, I would.
But I can’t, so instead I’m offering up a few lessons from my experience of being physically lost.
The parallels are pretty obvious, I think, so if you’re feeling lost:
- In all cases I think the first thing to do is to be lost with someone. I was lost with my niece and nephew and it was very comforting not to be alone. In the case of whatever feeling you’re experiencing, I recommend you talk with someone you trust — friend, family, religious official, doctor, teacher, social worker — anyone. There’s no need to go it alone.
- Next, don’t panic. Like in Venice, there are borders and walls around the change you are experiencing, and it is unlikely it will go on indefinitely. It will resolve in some way. Everything does. You will figure out what to do next, your grief will lessen, and changes will happen. My grandmother used to say, “Things will be some way.” She was right.
- Try a few different paths. If they turn out not to be the right ones, are there some serendipitous things you can experience while you’re on them? For instance, if you try a new job that isn’t your dream job, can you learn something new before you head to your next job? If you try to lessen grief by volunteering somewhere and it isn’t really something you’ve decided you want to do long term, are there some amazing lessons you’ve learned or people you’ve impacted (or who have impacted you)?
- You’re probably trying too hard. Let go of your need to control everything. We found the way back when we finally stopped looking for it. It may sound weird and “hippy dippy” to you, but it’s really quite true. When you stop trying so hard to figure something out, and instead switch your focus to something else, it’s quite likely that the answer will suddenly pop up in front of you when you least expect it. Change your activity or frame of reference for a while and see what happens.
Remember that being truly lost is really a matter of perspective — you may not actually be lost, but rather on an important side street.
And that can make all the difference.
Ruth Henderson is a top writer in Leadership and Productivity, and is co-founder of Whiteboard Consulting Group Inc., a boutique management consulting company in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
She is also editor of Medium publication “At The Whiteboard” which you can follow HERE for tips and tricks on how to “Crush It” at work.