At some point between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., I will want to change my life. I will feel a pull to wander. I will feel a desire to depart from my ordinary life and find something new.
I think about moving to a new city (life would be so much more exciting in LA). I dream of traveling somewhere new (did you know there are nearly 200 countries in the world?). I consider changing my job completely and starting over in a new industry (all my financial woes could be solved so simply).
Most of these thoughts are fleeting. They make me smile for a moment and laugh at myself while I shake my head and say, “No. That’s silly.”
But sometimes the urge to seek change and adventure isn’t so easy to shake. Everyone today seems to want to spend extended time traveling. The new American Dream includes quitting your job for a few years and traveling the world to find yourself and get clarity on life. Travel, for some of us, has come to represent a life of carefree adventure that promises more than it can possibly deliver.
I believe in the power of travel. There’s something great about leaving everything you know to simply explore. If you have the opportunity (not everyone does) to see more of the world, it can change you. When I think about my life, moves and travels serve as many of the dividers between major sections.
I also believe in the power of staying. There’s a time to depart and there’s a time to stay. Too often, we think travel and adventure will fix everything—when they won’t. And that our lives need a total overhaul—when they don’t.
Wanderlust vs. Something Deeper
Wanderlust is that stirring that pushes us to travel, explore and seek change. It’s that feeling that we just need something new. Wanderlust at its best is an invitation to dig deeper into your life. It’s an invitation to continued growth and transformation.
At its worst, wanderlust is an escape from life, problems and your daily routine. The difference lies in how you choose to engage it.
Restlessness Is a Part of Life
Before we talk about how to engage it, you have to realize that restlessness is a necessary part of life. In his little book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer talks about cycles of transformation. He offers the four seasons of the year as a metaphor for understanding them.
Spring is a season of newness and growth. Summer is a season of abundance when life feels full and vibrant. Autumn, though beautiful, is a season of decline. Winter is a season of difficulty.
We cycle through these seasons as we change and grow. Restlessness and wanderlust can be a symptom of winter as you long for new growth and transformation. Your restlessness is telling you that you are ready for the next season to begin.
Wanderlust is inviting us to explore how we might take another step in life. That step may be a drastic change. But it may also be a new way of being in your current situation.
How to Deal With Wanderlust
The only way to know what your wanderlust is about is to spend time and effort exploring it. A great place to start is by thinking through these questions:
– What is it that I’m looking for and is this the best way to get it?
– Is this an impulse or something deeper?
– What might I be running from? What might I be searching for?
– When was the last time I made a big change? Is there a pattern here?
– What am I wanting in life right now— from God, work, relationships, myself?
These questions will help you determine if it’s a mild case of wanderlust or something deeper, at which point you can decide what to do next.
However you choose to engage it, do it with intention. Instead of taking a vacation to escape your restlessness, take a pilgrimage to seek something specific (here’s some help on how).
Make it a quest to dig deeper into your questions instead of finding a simple answer for them. Instead of staying and suppressing those feelings, create time and space to explore, contemplate, pray and seek what they have to teach you.
If you then choose to make a big change in your life, you will have more clarity on the kind of change you need.
I’ve come to realize that my daily itch to change everything is really about escaping the tension and challenge of everyday life. Though moving to a new city would be a fun adventure, all the struggles and successes of everyday life will follow me there. I choose to use my wanderlust as an invitation to dig deeper into my life, work, community and relationships (and I love helping others do the same).
So before you let your wanderlust drive you to quit your job, get a new tattoo or buy a one way ticket to somewhere exotic, spend some time listening to what your life might be saying. It might be telling you something you need to hear.
Dan Cumberland is on a mission to help you do more work you love. He's the founder of the Meaning Movement and creator of the Calling Course. Find him on twitter @dancumberland.