“Even if we think we have everything sorted out and everything is going according to plan, everything can change in a moment. Inspiration fades. Beliefs transform. Goals shift. life happens. And that’s the thing. Life isn’t linear.” ~ Aly Juma
I was maybe nine years old. My father and I worked with orange putty in the barn next to the garage that we used for crafts. On either side of us were dioramas – one with an underwater scene from The Magic School Bus, the other a solar system with styrofoam planets. The wind rushed through the window with our wooden swing.
I took the Play-Doh in my hands and squirted it into the shape of a hill.
“That’s the hill between us and Aunt Maria,” I announced to my father as he took shape.
Earlier that day we had visited my aunt and cousins who lived in a town that required a tunnel through the hills to get to.
My father helped me carve out the tunnel. Then we carved the winding roads that seemed to wind up and down from one side of the hill to the other.
I realized that we had never been on these roads before. I was curious to know if cars can drive over it, so I asked my dad. He told me they could.
“Why don’t we ever do that?” I asked myself out loud.
It seemed like fun – up, down and around all those corners. I wondered what we might see along the way. I wondered if it would feel like a Disneyland ride.
“It’s very pretty up there,” my father said. “But if you go through the tunnel, you get there much faster.”
As I got older, I realized that I liked taking the hillier path in life.
Those who had made up their minds seemed to be whizzing through a tunnel. My rather meandering route looked very different.
My life after graduating from college involved moving to Uruguay for a year, getting a job in social work upon my return, and then driving Lyft for two and a half years before becoming a Spanish interpreter. I had plenty of time to write, practice my hobbies, and plan my next move in that span of time.
Riding Lyft, in particular, was a move that some might have found aimless and ambitious. But at the time, it seemed like the best option to me—at a time when I needed freedom, flexibility, and control with unresolved issues to heal. Few other jobs offered these things.
I enjoyed riding the wave of adventure wherever it took me.
Once, after delivering flowers to an Uber Eats customer in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood on a rare sunny day, I went for a lovely barefoot jog along the beach.
Another time I ended up in a café in Turlock, where the tables were made of barrels, next to windows that looked out onto what looked like a 19th-century street.
Another time, I found myself in a picture-perfect cafe attached to hot tubs that cafe-goers could rent for an hour.
When people asked, “Why do you want to ride Lyft?” or “Why do you want to live this lifestyle?” Little moments like that were part of my response. The freedom in my schedule (part of the independent contractor lifestyle) made this possible. In random places and unexpected moments, I learned to be a treasurer of beauty.
Sometimes unforeseen events can derail even our best plans. There are so many things we can’t control, and practicing flexibility can help soften the blow of that.
Let’s say I had planned to take a few quick drives before ending up at a coffee shop to study for my Spanish interpreting test – but then a passenger requested a ride that was longer than I expected. In order to cover the learning needs, I translated the conversations of the passengers into Spanish in my head.
I also joined 24 hour fitness so no matter where I landed, a workout facility was never too far out of reach. (Whoever was closest at the end of my last ride was the one I would train on.)
I was reminded that there are multiple ways to meet our needs. That I don’t shut myself off from doing this in unconventional or creative ways. The more adamant you are about the “how,” the more likely you are to neglect meeting them. I’ve learned to instead choose to please her in a perhaps less conventional (albeit unideal) way.
If we are not flexible, we become victims of our circumstances. This can lead to learned helplessness.
For all those who are not quite sure where to go or who fancy hilly serpentines:
You don’t have to get involved in the rat race right away – or at all. Sometimes you just don’t know what’s right for you. And it’s okay to take your time to find out.
I’ve learned that we don’t have to be the car that shoots straight through the tunnel. The tunnel is possibly the quickest and easiest way to work. But there are so many ways to get to your final destination. Our route can be like the alternative unexplored roads over the hills.
Remind yourself that your ultimate goals are probably not to live aimlessly and hedonistically. You just haven’t figured out what your ultimate goals are yet. It might take a little longer to get there. And that’s okay.
Keep listening to your intuition until it gets you where you need to be. Perhaps your path is to keep moving until you finally reach your wiser end goal. And maybe once you’re on it, you won’t look back – because nobody forced you to. You got there alone. It happened when it was supposed to happen.
And if your ultimate goal is to be aimless and hedonistic, that’s okay too. There is no wrong path in life – only what feels right to you.
About Eleni Stephanides
A freelance writer and Spanish interpreter, Eleni grew up and currently resides in the California Bay Area. Her work has been published in Them, LGBTQ Nation Tiny Buddha, The Mighty, Elephant Journal, The Gay and Lesbian Review, and Introvert, Dear, among others. She currently writes the monthly column “Queer Girl Q&A” for Out Front Magazine. You can follow her on IG @eleni_steph_writer and on Medium.
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