What to Do When You Feel Lost (and a Little Scared)

Do you know where you’re going?

There are days I feel full of purpose and drive, charging ahead and crossing off my to-do list with vigorous enthusiasm.

And then there are days that I feel . . . well, lost.

I’m hit with the cold truth that adulthood doesn’t exactly look like an episode of Friends (that show has a lot of false advertising to answer for).

I don’t know why I’m here, where I’m going, or even who I am. It’s during these days that I question just about everything. My job, the town I live in, my proclivity for ending clauses in prepositions, my friendships, and pretty much every major life decision I’ve ever made . . . not to mention where on earth I’m heading (other than to the closest happy hour—ASAP).

It is during these days that I’m overwhelmed by hopelessness. I long for the safety and comfort I had as a child, which I’ve left behind. I wish the weight of responsibility wasn’t quite so heavy, or at the very least, that I had a map which directed me to where I was meant to be, to safety.

It is ironic that, as young children, we are impatient for the days when we will finally be “free.” When we can finally go wherever we want, be whoever we want, and do whatever we want.

Allowing ourselves to dream is how we become inspired and find direction. Have you dreamt about what kind of person do you want to be?

Milestones like getting your license, turning eighteen, going to college, and turning twenty-one are often eagerly anticipated as glorious occasions.

Until, sooner or later, you are rudely awakened by all sorts of bills, the high cost of living, separation from loved ones, forty-hour work weeks (and no summer vacation whatsoever), car troubles, and the vast expanse that is the unknown.

On these days, I inwardly repeat over and over again: I just want to go home.

I think I understand how Dorothy felt.

The problem is that “home” as I knew it doesn’t really exist anymore. And I’m sure this is the case for most of us out in the adult world. Our siblings and friends have moved away. We can no longer depend on our parents to support us, and even they cannot protect us from the decisions we are faced with (although they may try).

If you’re having one of those days (or weeks or months) when you feel lost; or when you’re overwhelmed by responsibility and the enormity of life; or if you are unsure where to go from here, what you are supposed to do, or what you want . . . here is my advice.

Step 1: Embrace the Discomfort

You don’t feel good. You may be on the verge of snapping and trying desperately to keep your bubbling emotions under wraps. Well, don’t. Suppressing emotions is widely known to be unhelpful and detrimental to your emotional and mental health. Feel what you need to feel. The more you fight it, the harder it will be to move on in a healthy way. If you’re at work or in another public place, go for a walk, sit in your car, or head for any other space you can get five minutes alone.

Treat your emotions as a guest in your home. You can let them in, observe them, spend some time with them, and eventually, one way or another, they will head on out.

You may not be able to do this in five minutes. But you can, over time, explore these difficult feelings by spending time alone in the classroom of silence.

Emotions are like children. The more we ignore them, the louder they get. And if you feed them after midnight, they turn into gremlins. Wait, that’s not children or emotions.

Anyway, if you’re feeling especially anxious or overwhelmed in this stage of life, take time daily to spend time alone and in silence, giving these unpleasant emotions your full attention and seeking to understand why they exist. During this time, journaling can be especially helpful.

Step 2: Practice Present Moment Awareness

There is goodness where you are right now.

Look out! The goodness is right behind you!

It may not look or feel this way. The situation may seem dire from where you’re standing or your future may appear helplessly unplanned, however, I am certain that you have things you can be grateful for at this very moment.

We get ahead of ourselves thinking about an uncertain future, which is why we have to be grounded in what is reality—not fear about what could be.

Whether it’s simply the ability to breathe, a sunny day, an encouraging word from a friend, your favorite song, a good hug, a hot cup of coffee, an epic high five, a paycheck, a warm sweater . . . they may seem minute compared to whatever concerns you’re facing, but gratitude is an enormous factor to overall happiness and well-being. Practicing with the small things will make it easier to see all the good—big and small—that exists in your life.

If you are worried about what is going to happen (whether it’s with work, a relationship, a financial or health burden, or life in general), remind yourself of where you are right now.

Often we get ahead of ourselves thinking about an uncertain future, which is why we have to be grounded in what is reality—not fear about what could be. The more we practice present moment awareness, the more we are able to give our full attention to life as it is and not as we fear it might be.

Fear =/= reality.

Unless you’re living in a horror movie. And if you do live in a horror movie, for heaven’s sake, don’t go in there!

Step 3: Dream a Dream

It’s easy to get lost in the practicality of the everyday, and then suddenly it’s five years later and you find yourself dissatisfied and discontent with your life.

Allowing ourselves to dream is how we become inspired and find direction. What do you want to accomplish, personally or professionally? Where would you like to go? What kind of person do you want to be? What is quality would you like to develop?

If you need some inspiration, read a book, pick up a magazine, or think about someone you look up to. What about them speaks to you? What are you drawn to? What do you want your life to look like?

It can be as simple as learning how to cook (well) or as big as moving across the world, but our hearts yearn for the things that will bring us fulfillment and joy—and too often we don’t give these “heart things” a chance.

Make a list of things you would like to do, and pick one to begin with.

You can do this in a dream journal (a plain ol’ journal for your dreams and goals). Write them down, evaluate them, and pick one or two to pursue at any point in time. How can you get started? What is a small, simple step you can take today? When do you want to achieve this goal?

Whether it’s saving ten dollars a week for a trip to Europe or inviting a few friends over for a small dinner party, we can and should pursue things that bring joy and meaning into our lives. We may convince ourselves that we don’t “need” these sorts of things or that they are not “realistic,” but it is our ability to dream which has brought every necessary change and thing of beauty into this world.

If you have no idea where to start, begin with these four questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What am I here for?
  3. What matters most?
  4. What matters least?

Step 4: Seek Counsel

Sometimes you just need to talk to someone. Choose wisely, someone with more experience and similar values to you is important. Peers are great, but very often they are not the best source of helpful, trustworthy advice. Instead, it might be a mentor; a pastor; a hilarious, gorgeous, intelligent woman who writes awesome articles; or just a friend who is a little more versed in the matter than you. Ask this wise person to meet you for coffee.

The process of unloading your struggles and talking through what you’re experiencing can be highly therapeutic in and of itself. You may also get some much-needed wisdom and perspective for what you are going through.

If you are experiencing severe unhappiness and anxiety, it might be worth seeking professional help in the form of a counselor or therapist. While there is a stigma around therapy, it is one of the most helpful and healthy things you can do (at least that’s what my therapist tells me).

As highly relational beings, we shouldn’t close ourselves off from the world when we’re going through something. It’s important to stay open and get help when we need it. A listening ear and a gentle word from someone who is looking out for you can go a long way.

Step 5: Challenge Your Mindset

“An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

- Gilbert Chesterton

This quote has stuck with me and is one I bring to mind often when faced with the frustrating, tedious, and uncertain parts of life. Life is an adventure. It’s not an easy drive that you can mindlessly cruise through. It’s full of highs and lows, challenges, beauty, goodness, and heartbreak.

You’ll never have it all figured out—none of us do. But you do have the ability to choose. To choose what kind of person you want to be, and what you would like to do with this short, precious life. You also have a calling, should you choose to accept it (though this calling won’t self-destruct in five seconds, probably). A mission you were specifically created for that will make you a-better-version-of-yourself, bring you joy and fulfillment, and make the world a better place (cliché, but true).

Even if you’re facing something particularly difficult or simply feel at a loss for why you’re here, find comfort in this truth: you were made for a purpose, and no one else can fulfill it.

The world needs you and all you have to offer. You have immense value in who you are—brokenness and all. Don’t let fear and discouragement rob you of this fact. It’s okay to be down, just know that the moment will come for you to get back up. The world needs you to.

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