Earlier this year, my dear friend and roommate Brian decided to quit his job, move out of our apartment, and spend the next six months or so hiking the Appalachian Trail with his lovely girlfriend Kelly. Like, the entire Appalachian Trail, all 2,184 miles of it, start to finish, from Georgia to Maine. This seemed pretty ridiculous to me at the time. I couldn’t imagine that spending nearly every day for six months walking through the woods would be enjoyable, even for someone who loved walking as much as Brian. To be honest, I just failed to see what he could possibly get out of the whole thing. What’s the point?
Brian and Kelly were motivated to embark on such a (literally) mountainous journey by feelings that I think are pretty common amongst people in their mid- to late-twenties: feelings of dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and general apathy towards their jobs, their daily routines, the humdrum of day-to-day life. (Brian and Kelly, I apologize if I’m oversimplifying this.) Since these are feelings that I have been all-too-familiar with, I was really curious to see how this trip affected them, and what (if any) lessons could be learned by walking around staring at trees all day.
I’m happy to say that Brian and Kelly finished their journey on September 18, some 5 1/2 months after leaving Chicago. While I haven’t yet had a chance to talk with them in too much detail about their trip, I thought Brian’s most recent post on their blog chronicling their journey was very inspiring. In short, Brian’s biggest takeaway from almost 6 months and over 2,000 miles of hiking wasn’t some great epiphany, some “a-ha” moment where he realized exactly what he was meant to do in life and how to realize all of his wildest dreams, it was more or less to shut up and enjoy the journey. (Again, I’m oversimplifying. Sorry, Brian.) As Brian says,
It is not the final destination or some imagined moment in the future that is the path to joy, relief, and fulfillment. It is the journey. Specifically, it is the step of the journey that you are taking at this exact moment that provides the path to all that is truly good. There is no moment more critical to your joy and well-being then right now. In fact, if you really think about, right now is all you really have. The past no longer exists, and the future is not guaranteed. Yet we all have a tendency to think way too much about the past and future with undue nostalgia, regret, fear, or hope.
I found this particularly inspiring, especially as the workload from school continues to increase, and we’re put under more and more pressure to somehow find the time not only to study and do homework, but to socialize and network and find an internship and eventually find a full-time job. I’ve found myself at times questioning how I’m supposed to know what my dream job or dream company is, or worried that I’m not spending enough time fine-tuning my resume, or researching companies, or connecting with people on LinkedIn. But Brian’s post provided a timely reminder that the more time spent worrying about the future, the harder it is to enjoy the present.
So thank you, Brian, for sharing your lessons and wisdom from your journey with me. I really didn’t feel like walking 2,184 miles.