I spent a lot of my early twenties as a bit of lone wolf, running hard after the things that I thought that I wanted and racking up the most audacious achievements I could come up with. I was relentless about ‘going fast’ with my life. Whether that kind of “Have to do it all now!” is one of the hallmarks of ambition meets youth, or whether it’s because I never really thought I’d live all that long (I was sort of resigned to the fact that, one way or another, the world would probably end before I was 30), I was the poster-child for both Drive and Energy.
Eventually, though, I came to realise that I was well and truly on the wrong road. I was, in fact, going fast in a direction that was slowly choking the life out of me. So there was a period of time when I stopped – I had a year off work, and tried a whole lot of things that I had never tried before, and started spending time with a whole lot of different types of people that I had never been close to before – and I started really exploring all of the “Who am I, and what makes life meaningful to me?” questions. Over time, the practice of introspection and reflection (which I consider to be time spent creating a deep relationship with yourself) meant that I found myself on roads that felt more and more in alignment with my real me. So, ‘going where’ was improving.
Last year I decided to hike the Camino de Santiago, an 800 km walking trail that winds across the north of Spain. I had just moved to Melbourne a few months earlier and was living out of a suitcase while I waited for the right rental to become available, and I was also in the first 6 months of a new relationship, which we were trying to navigate long-distance. It was a difficult time. The sheer amount of change, and the lack of access to the things that would normally make me feel well (friends, family, piano, art room, any of my things) meant that I was unusually fragile. I was earnestly debating whether I was even made for relationship, fearing that it would just ‘slow me down’ from achieving the enormous dreams that I live with. But, providentially, I came across a saying that I ruminated on while I marched through the Spanish wheat fields: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
It’s like the changes you make to your running pace depending on whether you’re aiming for a marathon or an ultra-marathon distance – you go slower if you want to go further. “Do I believe this?” I wondered. “Do I believe that a relationship could be so sustaining that it did mean I could go further than where I might get to if I was just by myself? And does being in relationship really mean that I can’t go as fast?”
Independence is both a profound strength, and, I’ve come to realise, weakness, if taken to extremes where we can’t let others in to our hearts, our lives, and our dreams. I have a whole history of going fast by myself, of being unwilling to let people in to see the uncertainty and vulnerability behind the confident façade for fear that someone might ‘take advantage’ if they saw my soft underbelly. But most people don’t take advantage – they don’t stab you in your soft spots. And you can learn the wisdom needed to know who is safe to let in, and who, perhaps, you shouldn’t let in.
Since those weeks in Spain (where, coincidentally, I decided to stay in the relationship and see what happened – which is by far the best decision I’ve ever made), I’ve come to define “going together” more broadly than just one significant relationship, to include any deeply supportive relationship that you have in your life. Whether it’s one significant relationship or a whole tribe of people, the support, encouragement and meaning that we can experience when we are connected to others who love and believe in us is immense. Staying in relationship – choosing to ‘go far’ with others – has taught me so much about asking for (and being willing to receive) support, encouragement and belief, and I can already see that I am further along than if I was still lone-wolfing this journey. Being in these relationships has opened up doors that weren’t there, has allowed me to invest in others’ dreams (which feels amazing), and operates as an amniotic sack of meaning around the dreams that I’m bringing into the world.
Paradoxically, the meaning that I have found in my relationships with my tribe has been so energizing that I am actually going faster, too, (not just further) than if I was doing this by myself. So I feel like the saying needs to be adapted: “If you want to go fast AND far, go together with your tribe.”
The take-aways for me when I ponder on all of this are:
- If you want to get on the right road, you need to know yourself, deeply.
- If you want to go fast, you need drive and energy. There has to be a very compelling reason that you’re running after the things that you’re running after, and you need the energy to keep running. Think about what motivates you, and what sustains you (in addition to my relationships with people, I’m energized by beauty, time outside, time spent cuddling small furry beings, colour, flowers, and large bodies of water. Having regular injections of these things in my life keeps me operating at my peak).
- If you want to go far, you need to do life in deep, meaningful connection with others. Learn how to ask for, give, and receive, support that sustains you as you journey. Invest in others, and find ways for them to invest in you.