“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
So it was that I read on my brother’s blog, as he quoted Thoreau while describing making the same drive every morning to work, of the same routine, the rut that he found himself, searching for something deeper and more meaningful in life. Needing a shakeup, he quit his job and left for a world trip, leaving us only with a gym bag of items to send to him midway through his trip for a plan to take ninjitsu classes somewhere along the way.
As I read his blog, I realized somewhere in the past 12 years since we last lived under the same roof, my younger brother had gotten infinitely smarter than me (or maybe he always was, but I’m not so embarrassed to admit it now). Like many Albertans, he was employed in the oil and gas sector, and quitting his job as an engineer during precarious economic times came with no guarantees on return. But he shied away from letting fear and uncertainty cloud his decision-making.
There have been three times that I have remembered taking a leap into the unknown, feeling fear and excitement in equal measure – when I left home for university, across the country to Halifax; when I got married and moved to the UK with my husband, and then again when I came here to St. Paul.
I’m a creature of habit, so each time, the move was a shock that required an adjustment, grappling with bone-deep loneliness, a longing for something more, of friends and human connection that were sorely missing at first.
But each time, I had little choice but to buck up and try to meet the challenges of my situation. I remember distinctly each time of moving to a new place a “click” moment, a moment where I looked around me and saw smiling, familiar faces, of a beautiful vista that made me feel connected to the ground beneath my feet, and most importantly, a moment where I felt surrounded by love that I knew would keep me safe wherever I went.
While some of the things I do every day now as a wife, mother and employee certainly leave me feeling Thoreau’s “quiet desperation” – including the never-ending loading and unloading of the dishwasher and laundry – I find my meaning now, as I did then, in my joys, my passions and family.
For many of us, my brother’s move of leaving work and traveling for a year is impractical or vastly unlikely, as we have children, mortgages, elderly parents or other commitments that tie us to one place.
But we shouldn’t let fear dictate our choices – fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change. Even if we don’t pick up and leave, we can still chase dreams, perhaps starting a business or going back to school, maybe taking a painting or salsa class. Maybe things will go awry, but perhaps they won’t. Either way, this is life without regrets and without that leap into the unknown, we will never know what wonders we might miss.
For, as Thoreau notes with the wisdom of one who has gone to the woods, and who has looked deep within himself for the answers –
“Things do not change; we change.”