Lost and Found

In our 20something years we are figuring ourselves out and trying things on for size. We are interviewing people we meet. With new friends it’s to decide if they are the type of person we want in our inner circle. With dating, we interview people to decide if we want a relationship with them. For work, we interview for jobs to see if we want a particular career.

So, with all of incessant Q & A circling around us, we have heard that dreaded question time and again. The one that makes our palms sweat and heart race. Where as soon as the words are uttered, we feel instant anxiety. It’s awkward and heavy and most of us cannot conceive to think about the answer… but it is frequently asked anyway.

“So where do you see yourself in five years?”

[GROAN!]  We stumble over our answer while frantically trying to organize our thoughts. With trepidation we try to formulate an “acceptable” answer.

I want to stop here and point out that I hate this question. So I am taking a stand, and with that said, I choose not to validate this question with an answer.

Those of us who think we know exactly where we will be in five years have left out the small factor of the unknown. Sorry to burst your bubble, all you happy planning types. But thinking you can predict where you will be in five years is only setting yourself up for a huge disappointment. Truth is, we're really not supposed to know.

We are supposed to shoot high and work hard and hope for the best. However, we need to remember that we will get sidetracked and distracted. We will stumble, fall and head in the wrong direction. We will get lost and hopefully we will find our way back.

The words of wisdom from our elders will fall upon deaf ears. We will disregard warning and advice because we will insist on figuring it out on our own.

We are young and dumb and determined and motivated. We want to do it for ourselves. We have fire under our ass and the Eye Of The Tiger soundtrack playing in the background. We have big dreams and great ideas. We have experienced enough and have convinced ourselves we know what we are doing. That is our 20something journey.

Not because we are self-destructive or because we are destined to ruin the future of mankind, but because it’s what we need to do. I read a quote that said, “Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.”  This exemplifies the idea that experience is what matters.Experience is what helps up grow as people.  Experience is learned on “the journey” between the start and the destination.

I studied abroad when I was 19. I moved to Rome with 3 friends from college, lived in an apartment off campus and hoped to survive for the next 5 months. There was basically no supervision or micro-management from our University in Rome. Hey, its Italy… we were supposed to just eat, drink and be merry.

So we armed ourselves with maps we couldn’t read, of a city we had never been to, along with an Italian-English translation book that we couldn’t pronounce. We were ready! (note the sarcasm)

Every day is an adventure when your 19, especially when you’re in Europe... alone, unsupervised and just generally happy that we could order wine with every meal! So on one of our many adventures, despite how gallantly prepared we were, believe it or not, we ended up lost! Shocked right?

We had got on the RIGHT bus going the WRONG way. Not conducive to be being productive. So, we got off that bus after 30 minutes of aimlessly riding in the wrong direction only to stand at the bus stop for close to an hour waiting for another one to come. (*Side note* - In Italy they have bus schedules but it’s really just a façade. They do not abide by them. Like I said everyone is so busy, eating, drinking and being merry, they just don’t have time for schedules.)

So, when a bus finally came our way, we got on. Yes, we are aware that it was not the right number. Yes, we were aware that this particular bus was what you would call a “short” bus. So it wasn’t EXACTLY what we were looking for. But we were stranded, (young and impatient) so we got on anyway.

It wasn’t until I plopped down into my seat that I noticed...

  • My roommates and I were the only ones on this bus. (Strange?) No we just shrugged it off.
  • Then I noticed that the bus was flying by all of the other bus stops. (Strange?) Now, I was starting to get a little uneasy, but I shrugged it off.
  • It wasn’t until this short, deserted bus pulled into a pitch black tunnel that I thought- maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

It was dark inside this tunnel and eventually the bus came to a stop. The driver said nothing; he just got out and left the door wide open. My roommates and I were alone on this bus in what looked like an empty basement of a parking garage. (At this point, had I seen the movie “Taken” or “Hostel” I would have got right off that bus and ran—but I was 19 and naïve—so we all sat patiently waiting for another bus driver)  Maybe it was just a change of shift?

After another 25 minutes of waiting. We decided to exit the bus. We wandered through this parking garage and found a sign that said “San Pietro -->”. Without any other better ideas, we followed the arrows.

We traveled across 2 people-movers (you know those things in the airport) and up 3 escalators. It seemed to be a pretty high-tech parking garage.

As we emerge to ground level. I remember the sun glaring and my eyes were having a hard time adjusting. When the spots had dissipated and I could get my bearings, we discovered that we were standing on the edge of Saint Peter’s Basilica…aka…the Vatican! (Hence the San Pietro sign)

We had tried for weeks to get to this part of Rome but we just couldn’t figure it out. Little did we know that this bus station sat below Vatican City and was only a 15 minute ride from our apartment (assuming we got on another short Vatican Bus and didn’t start out going the opposite direction). Anyhow, as time passed I do not remember how frustrated, tired, hungry or confused I felt…that fades. What I do remember is how I felt when I looked around me. The sky that day was magnificent. Almost magical. I took a slew of pictures and even now (6 years later), I still believe that the sky is “just different” over Saint Peter’s.

For the next few hours we walked around Vatican City in awe. Thanking God that we didn’t end up trapped in a scary garage basement, but also appreciative that we had the gift of being lost.

To this day, I ask people if they know that the view from Gianicolo Hill is one of the best in Rome? Or if they know that those short small buses skip all of the traffic and end up in the heart of Vatican City?

Most people don’t know this. It was a secret that the city revealed to us. Only because we decided to just “go with the flow” and accept being lost!

So, the getting lost and figuring it out… The saving yourself… The doing for yourself. That is what makes us who we are. Having a job or a relationship means nothing if you didn’t have to work to obtain it. If you didn’t really want it with everything that you are. If you didn’t get lost and mess up and trip over yourself to get there. Without all of that—the journey—it would be worthless.

What if we just accept that we are going to get lost? “Shoot for the moon and even if you miss, you land among the stars.” That’s the cheesy heartfelt quote, but it has some truth to it. It’s telling us to do our best, make decisions, that at the time, we feel are necessary and aim high. We need to do this and also realize that we will be pig-headed and have to figure things out on our own.

If we consciously accept all of this, maybe we will make the whole journey a little easier. If we just stop swimming against the tide and could accept the idea of going with the flow… we may find that we end up just where we are supposed to be.

We cannot predict where we will be in five years. It’s not fair to put that kind of pressure on ourselves. So I say, when asked that question we should respond…

“I hope to be _____, but I know that I will get lost and I will figure it out and I will be a better person for it, yet, I will keep doing the work I will end up where I belong with a great story to tell.”

How do you think that would fly in an interview? Probably not so great… and since the economy sucks and the job market is so competitive, maybe just say

“I hope to be right here working at _________ (insert venue)”

Let’s not forget that there is a time and a place for honesty. So on that interview, keep this to yourself, but find comfort in knowing that the sky is the limit. ;)  Remember even though the plans fall through, what takes shape may be something far better than you could have planned for. So embrace the stints of feeling lost and trust that you will eventually be found. We almost always find our way eventually and when we do, we may be pleasantly surprised at the place, career, event or person that has emerged on our path.


“When I get lost on purpose, I usually wind up feeling, to an extent, more exactly where I am” –Jason Millard


  1. Fire under our ass and the Eye of the Tiger Soundtrack in the background, I love it. Thank you for sharing your Vatican experience. What a story. Very moving for me. Felt like I was there with you.


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