Today, I return. Today, I start back on the Appalachian Trail at Unicoi Gap, heading north. This is where my trip truly begins, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, the next time I come home, it’ll be by way of Maine. I’ve been home almost two weeks, and with every passing day, I’ve gotten more restless and more unsettled. But now, I’m ready. I’ve said my goodbyes, tied up the loose ends of my life in civilization, made my final gear adjustments, and spent hours upon hours preparing and mailing my next few food drops. The weather is finally getting warmer. It looks and feels like spring outside.
It’s time to go.
Before I leave for good, I’d like to say something. If you read, fully read, my last post, my story probably sounds a lot like a lot of other folks who set foot on the Appalachian Trail, this Great American Hiking Trip. I don’t know your story, but it might sound a lot like you. I know for a fact that there are others who are like I once was. More truthfully, I know that the majority of people I encounter are in such a state. Desperate, trapped, purposeless, miserable, in any number of bad situations – Dead-end job, no job, broke, broken, stuck in a toxic relationship, or just… existing, drifting through life without purpose.
My hope is that through this trip, I can inspire you to do what I did and take positive, decisive action to change your circumstances.
I would like to issue a challenge to all of you. Many of us live lives that fall far short of what we envisioned for ourselves. Our souls yearn for meaning and purpose in a world that quite often seems devoid of both. Our lives are experiments in carefully managed misery. We consume mass-market entertainment and busy ourselves with little pleasures to stay distracted from the fact that our days are waning year by year with nothing to show for it, all while keeping smiles on our faces and telling everyone we’re doing great.
But I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. We are conditioned to live our lives with blinders on, believing the lie that we can only choose between a narrow range of options in order to be happy, successful, and fulfilled. But those barriers to our true nature and our true potential are as thin as tissue-paper wrapping, and the only thing that makes them real is our belief that they are. We are sons and daughters of a great King, and we have far more power than we give ourselves credit for. God has called you for a purpose. The Word states throughout that we each have a mission, a calling. There’s a reason you’re alive today, here, now. And it’s not small, insignificant, or unimportant. It’s vitally crucial to humanity, otherwise you never would have been created. I don’t know what yours is, that’s between you and Him.
My challenge to you is to go and live it. I believe you already know what it is. It’s that deep desire in your heart that you think about when you’re daydreaming at work, or crosses your mind right before you fall asleep. It might look very different for each one of you. For one person, it might be taking night classes at a tech school to get out of a dead-end retail job and get a cubicle 9-5, the kind of job you can build a stable life and raise a family on. For another, it might be quitting that 9-5 office job to go teach English in China. There are no formulas here. I’m not advocating any particular kind of lifestyle. You don’t have to drop out of society and become nature-loving hiker trash like me. (It’s not a bad way to live, though.) But whatever it is, a good acid test might be that it’s going to be something that takes a great deal of courage. Maybe more courage than you’ve ever needed for anything before. The whole of it may not be visible to you right now, maybe you only see the first step. But that first step is all you need.
Cut down those false barriers with the axe of your own God-gifted freedom, and set fire to the falsehood that this is as good as it gets for you.
You might land face-first on the concrete, but if you do, you’ll do so in spectacular fashion, so that at the least, as Roosevelt said, you “will never have a place among those cold and timid souls who have never known victory or defeat.” I don’t have this all figured out by any means, but I do know that life is far too short to live a day without purpose.
You may say that you can’t afford to take the risk, but the truth is, you can’t afford not to.
There will always be those who will tell you that you can’t. That you’re not smart enough, not competent or capable enough, too old, too young, fill in the damn blank. But their negativity towards you is only a reflection of their own fear and self-hatred, and their knowledge that they lack the courage to follow their own heart. So screw ‘em. Action is your strongest rebuttal, and happiness your best revenge.
When you’re wiling away your twilight years, and you have difficulty recalling your life, not because of a failing memory, but because there was very little worth remembering, you’ll wish you had made the leap.
You’ll look back at this time of your life and wince with the pain of regret for that great, terrifying, incredible thing you almost did, because your grandkids aren’t going to give a damn about the story of your almost.
The greatest tragedy of life is not to die young, but to die a thousand little deaths, year in, year out. We have far more control over our circumstances than we realize. If you aren’t truly, genuinely happy, if you’re stuck in an awful relationship or a job you hate, listen to me: YOU CAN CHANGE IT. Even if you’re committed to a situation, like an employment contract or taking care of kids, it’s not going to last forever. That contract will expire, and the kids will go off to college. Life comes in seasons. You might have to wait on one to pass, but that’s a speedbump, not an excuse.
The power is yours, and yours alone. We are only granted a certain number of days on this earth, and only God truly knows just how many. I pray you’ll live them like you mean it.
So take heart. Go and do.
Jump out of the airplane. Ask the girl out, even – no, especially, if you think she’ll reject you. Take up Krav Maga. Quit your job and start that business you’ve been dreaming about, even if everyone else says you’ll go bankrupt. Move to Colorado and climb mountains. Take a road trip to Burning Man. Go into a mission field where the people you’re ministering to might martyr you instead. Say that thing to that person that you’ve never had the courage to.
DARE GREATLY. Doesn’t matter what it is, just DO IT.
For me, that thing is this trail. This trip is more than a trip. It’s me putting up or shutting up. I can’t rightfully preach this philosophy I just expounded on if I don’t live it out. This is me earning the right to say what I know in my heart is true, and striving for the purity of experience to justify it.
I can’t tell you how any of this is going to turn out. The only thing I’m absolutely certain of is that I’m right where God wants me to be. The ancient Greeks had a word for passion. Thumos. The fire in the belly, as it’s known. The force of life. That little flame of mine that was slow to spark, flickering and sputtering over the years, starving for air and tinder, is finally a living inferno, never to be extinguished again by doubt or distraction, but instead to burn high and bright into the night, and to consume my days until it accomplishes its purpose.
The journey has begun, and I’m not turning back.
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