I’m nearing 4,500 miles as I approach Yellowstone National Park; the same Yellowstone that will begin the journey that resets those miles to zero. My days to zero. People look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them this. What’s the point of wasting all those miles? Well I hope to answer that question with this post and sum up what I set out to achieve with this journey.
When I set out on this journey I had no idea what I was doing, both literally and figuratively. People would be like “what’s the point?”, and I didn’t have an answer for them. How do you explain a call that comes from within? One that only you can hear? And how do you explain a desire to backpack across the country when you’ve never backpacked before in your life? When the only camping experience you’ve ever had took place in your friend Patrick’s back yard in middle-school, where you would blare Wonderwall and Blink-182 around the campfire waiting for the sun to go down to flip the bottoms up until the host was either drunk, naked, and peeing on somebody; or someone, like Evan, gets too drunk too notice you answered his drunk calls for a pillow with a roll of toilet paper.
Like I said, I didn’t know how to camp. I did know the call was coming from within though, and I was certain the ringing wasn’t going to stop. It was time to answer the call, even if I had to improvise with a roll of toilet paper again. I took a chance. I bet on my resilience. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Early on I thought this was a journey for me. Ashamed of the growth I hadn’t made, I thought I was setting out on a journey of personal growth. One that would give me the freedom to read the books I said I’d read if I had the time, write the programs I said I would write if I had the energy, and resolve the issues I said I’d resolve if I had the freedom. This journey was meant to give me the things everyday life took away, or at least that’s what I envisioned bringing me happiness. What the journey actually gave me was the time to slow down and enjoy the little things, the energy to give patience, and the freedom to dream big again.
Becoming a Beacon
The first few days on the road I was so embarrassed by the size of my dream to walk to the coast and start this journey that I didn’t tell anyone. When strangers asked I rarely even gave the watered down version. And if I did I would say, “I’m walking to California” too overweighted with shame to hold my head up and say it with eye contact. Luckily, responses were positive from the beginning and revealed a glimpse of the potential this journey held. Positive messages like, “I wish I did that when I was younger” or “That’s awesome, how can I follow along?” quickly revealed I was on the right path, and gave me the confidence to say it with eye contact; and that’s when I saw it.
Even the watered down version was lighting up eyes and energizing these vibrant conversations that left me walking away giddy, inspired, and ready to roll the dice and share again. I felt lucky to encounter so many encouraging people. I thought I was on a good run. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was me creating this response. It was me that was inspiring hope and shining the light. It was me that was on the path to become a beacon.
There are people in this world that have this ability to make everyone feel like someone. A passing smile in the hallway can light up your insides and make you feel acknowledged, like you were just the person they wanted to see. They make you feel like the best version of yourself when they talk to you. They harness this light that illuminates the path to our full potential and leaves us feeling like we’d just walked it. They leave us walking away feeling relieved that we can become that person. These people are the beacons. Beacons shine the light into our darkness and reveal a better path, igniting hope within us.
Beacons are the professors that give lectures that change you; the lectures that make you walk away feeling like a rocket is strapped to your back and you’re destined to fly to the top. Beacons are the girl that lightens the air at your hometown bar the moment she walks back in after being away for a while. She’s humble and makes you feel like you’ve done great, even if you haven’t. She’s the girl that leaves people walking away beaming with a smile after their turn to catching up with her.
Beacons are the coach that breaks down the hooligan you were at the beginning of the season and rebuilds you into man/woman you’re proud of. Someone you never thought you’d become. Your loyalty probably runs deep enough to start a bar fight with any prick throwing shade coach’s way.
Beacons shine light into our darkest depths and reveal the person we could be. They reveal the good. Their light reveals a path to something special within us we never knew existed. We walk away from them feeling confident, renewed, and ready to embark on a path refreshed with new possibilities. Beacons know how to be of service and do it without effort or desire for results. Their goal is to bring the light. To be of service in whatever way they can. To do good. To create light.
A part of what I was searching for was revealed when I realized I could create light for others. I had spent so many years lost in my own darkness, enduring a dark and empty existence I just wanted to end. I thought I’d already destroyed every photon my future held and was left with nothing but eternal darkness. Waking up and carrying on through that was hard, but if I hadn’t done it I wouldn’t have found the beauty of this journey. If I could be the light I needed for just one person I was going to do it. I decided to use this journey to become a beacon.
Become a catalyst
There are people in the world that redefine what we view as acceptable. They lead the pack. They ignite changes. They are catalyst. The first girl in your class to openly talk about flatulence and pooping—she was a catalyst. The guy that picks up trash on the weekends, catalyst. Catalyst redefine what normal has to be and ignite the change that leads to the acceptance we need to feel confident making these changes ourselves. These people make you reconsider norms, standards, and what life has to be. They make you comfortable doing the things you wanted to do but didn’t because it wasn’t openly accepted. They’re the first to stand up and say “fuck that, it doesn’t have to be this way.” They pave new paths, redirect old ones, and give you the confidence to follow. They’re the people that spark the change.
I’ve found myself often wondering why I’m not that person, particularly when I’ve had a similar thought or idea and never acted upon it even though it was the right thing to do. It comes down to being vulnerable. Having any ideas that go against the norm means having ideas alone. Standing alone makes me feel naked and exposed, like I’m opening myself up to the criticism that could alienate me or enabling the whispers that will label me an outsider. What if I’m wrong? And who am I to think I’m so special to see some new way that everyone else is overlooking? No, that’s what pompous pricks do. This is something I struggle with in my writing in particular.
Writing makes me feel pretentious. When I take a break and look back at my writing, I think “There is nothing special about this. People have already considered this. Why do you think you’re so special? Why did you let your emotions go wild over that small idea? This is embarrassing.” The writing I do with the most emotion is the writing I cringe at the most. It’s the writing that makes me feel the most vulnerable. I put everything I had into it and I’m confident that I mean it at the time, but afterwards I’ll look at it and start worrying it’s too much, I’ll later change my mind, or it’ll be rejected. I don’t want to publicly display inadequate writing or later change my mind in a way that leads to the questioning of whether I know how I feel or where I stand in the future.
None of these insecurities have anything to do with my belief in myself. I’ll know I was wrong, that my writing will get better, and that my process can be sound even if the outcome isn’t perfect. What I worry about is the perception of others; how will this piece affect their view of me later? Will saying this with confidence now destroy my credibility later if I experience growth that shifts my stance? Will that destroy their confidence in me knowing how I feel? Am I coming off too know-it-all? What if they stop reading my writing before my writing evolves into something better, something less know-it-all?
I know I put everything into that piece, but the fact that people might view it as unstable or dramatic bothers me. I picture it permanently scarring my image and ruining the taste of my writing before it has time to evolve. Sharing this post will be the most difficult writing decision I’ve made, and I’m making that decision to be the catalyst. I’m sharing the writing that makes me feel vulnerable to show that it’s okay to be uncertain, wrong, or to think differently. I’m failing out loud to show that the pain isn’t as bad as we perceive. I’m taking the leap, not to inspire the masses, but to inspire the few that will eventually ignite the explosion of acceptance.
Becoming the Change
Every action we make today is a vote for the world we’ll see tomorrow. We can act in ways that continue to fortify the norms, or we can act against them and begin to break them down and shape them into something more positive. The point of this journey is to get away from the life where I voted in reaction to the world I see today, and move towards one where I start voting proactively for the beautiful world I see possible tomorrow.
The Motto of My Journey
This is only the beginning of this post, I plan to dive into this a little deeper later on, but yesterday I was trying to figure out a design for my Walking Across America sign and debated using the motto of my journey and wanted to cover it lightly before I did so. I’ll probably edit this quite a bit in the coming days, and when I do I’ll post an update, but for now I just want to put it out there before I change my mind. Oh yeah, my motto is Be a Beacon, Be a Catalyst, and Become the Change or something along those lines. Still revising that portion, so if you have any suggestions leave them in the comments.