AWOL on the Appalachian Trail – being true to yourself

I’ve spent a few hours each week over the past four years in the university classroom teaching marketing to juniors and seniors.  Many of them are making steady progress toward earning a degree without really knowing what they want to do in life.  If this sounds like criticism, it’s not.  I remember what it was like to be just a semester away from graduation and wondering where I was headed afterwards.  These students are wrestling with big decisions that will determine their career and life trajectories.

My oldest daughter is on track to graduate from college in May of next year.  She has very clear picture of what she wants to do with her life.  It doesn’t involve getting an MBA and racing up the corporate ladder at breakneck speed.  Instead, it is all about pursuing something for which she has a lot of passion.  I’ve encouraged this, even though what she has chosen is not traditionally a lucrative employment field.  I’ve shared with her how important it is to do what you love and love what you do; how you can’t be great at something you don’t love.  And in doing so, I looked at my own life and saw hypocrisy.

I recently finished reading “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” by David Miller and realized that he and I shared a career experience and feelings about it.  In his own words: “Upon leaving college I dove into the workforce, eager to have my own stuff and a job to pay for it.  Parents approved, bosses gave raises, and my friends could relate.  The approval, the comforts, the commitments wound themselves around me like invisible threads.  When my life stayed the course, I wouldn’t even feel them binding.  Then I would waver enough to sense the growing entrapment, the taming of my life in which I had been complicit.”  I could have written these words myself, but David captures the sentiment perfectly.

David’s coping mechanism was to quit his job and hike the Appalachian Trail.  His story about his hiking experience is excellent, but it was his motivation for doing it that captivated me.  He, like I, began to detest the statement “I am a…” where the sentence was completed with an occupational title.  He continues: “Our vision becomes so narrow that risk is trying a new brand of cereal, and adventure is watching a new sitcom.”  As he grappled with his professional existence, he elevated his opinion of nonconformity to an obligation and set out on the trail to loose the moorings of society.  Those who disdain nonconformists think hiking the Appalachian Trail is pointless, to which David responds, “Is it not pointless to work paycheck to paycheck just to conform?”

Over the past year or more, I too felt like I wasn’t where I belonged professionally, yet I was enslaved by the false security of a paycheck and the benefits that came with it.  Those closest to me saw it too.  I wanted to make a change, but I wanted to do it the “smart”, traditional way – find another job to leave to.  But after months of professional unhappiness, which was impossible for me to compartmentalize, I came to a realization:  I should make decisions about my career on a spiritual basis, not on an economic one.  The conviction that I should just leave the job I was in grew strong.  Even though I felt quitting was the right thing to do, it was a huge step of faith for me because I didn’t have another job to go to.  On September 23rd this year, I resigned.

From the moment I made my decision, which was with the support of my family, I knew I had done the right thing.  I believe that the byproduct of a good decision is the peace you have after making it.  The moment of truth came when I left the place I had been employed for over seven years for the last time.  I wondered if I might feel regret or if I would begin second-guessing my decision.  Instead, I felt tremendous freedom, affirming the decision I had made.  David Miller understands this freedom: “We are outraged when we are constrained by others, but willfully, unwittingly put limits on ourselves.”

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About Jerry Rackley

An avid reader, mostly non-fiction, I read great books and think how the lessons of history have contemporary application. Most of these thoughts are work related, but sometimes about faith or family. This blog is my first attempt to allow some of these thoughts to escape the rather thick skull in which they were born.
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One Response to AWOL on the Appalachian Trail – being true to yourself

  1. ruth says:

    Thank you for such a brutally honest blog Jerry. AND, David Miller hits to nail on the head.

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