My youngest daughter is 23-years old now, and she’s an environmental scientist.
She has the college degree to prove it.
I’m proud of her. She’s smarter than me. There’s a chance she’s smarter than you. When it comes to the topics of the environment and science, she has more knowledge than most of us.
But she doesn’t have a job.
To be clear, she actually does have a job — she works hard and she pays bills — it’s just not a job in her field of study. It’s not the job she wants, or the job for which she spent all that time and money preparing.
She has all the academic credentials, good grades, some outstanding experience as a paid intern, and she has good references. She’s sent out applications and gotten interviewed, but she just hasn’t yet been able to land her “grown-up” job in environmental science.
It’s frustrating. I’ve been there. You’ve probably been there. You’ve done everything right, you’re equipped with everything you need, you know exactly where you want to go — but somehow, you’re lost.
But I’m not too concerned. My daughter has been lost before — about 10 years ago.
I wrote about it then, and I’ll write about it again. It isn’t every day you get a call to let you know your 13-year-old daughter has been missing for several hours on the side of a mountain in Wyoming.
You can prepare for a lot of things as parents. But missing on the side of the mountain? Didn’t see that one coming.
That summer, my daughter and a bunch of her friends went on a church youth trip to Wyoming. They took a bus ride out there for a week of fun and games in the wilderness — or about as close to a wilderness as you can get in the continental United States in the 21st Century.
They slept under the stars, they rode horses, they went rafting or tubing — or something like that — on a river. They got all kinds of high-quality fresh air and exercise.
They also went hiking. Up the side of a mountain.
A group was supposed to hike to the top, then hike back down. There was a beaten path for the kids to easily navigate. So I was told. There were adults hiking up and down the mountain with them, I’ve also been told.
But something happened. Something usually does.
My daughter and two of her friends made it to the top, and supposedly, were in a hurry to get back down to the bottom. They went out ahead of the rest of the group on the path.
The alleged path has a lot of zigs and a lot of zags. At some point, the three of them decided to take what was ironically referred to as a “short cut” down the mountain. I’m not sure if that amounted to an extra zig or an extra zag, but it really doesn’t matter.
They were lost for an hour before anyone even realized they were missing. That’s the way things work when you get turned around and mixed up in the wilderness.
Once they were officially missing, there were a few very difficult hours for my lost daughter, her two lost friends, all the friends who were worried about them -- and all the adults who were concerned about how they were going to explain losing my daughter to her mother and me.
But there is one thing that’s unique about the 21st-century wilderness — different from all previous wildernesses. Unlike their ancestors, kids who get lost in the 21st-century wilderness often times have cell phones. And often times, these cell phones work, even when you’re on the side of a mountain.
The three kids were smart enough to climb back up — far enough to get some phone reception — and call 911. Their phone had just enough juice to allow them to have a conversation with a park ranger before it went dead. The park ranger directed them to find a stream and follow the stream down the mountain. They were assured that the stream would either lead them to a campsite — where there would be people to help them — or back to the path.
They did as they were instructed and found the path. They made it down the mountain. There was much relief and much rejoicing.
It wasn’t until later that her mother and I got the call — after everything was said and done. While we had been going on with our daily lives, our daughter and two of her friends had been desperately lost on a mountain, almost 1000 miles away. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so we laughed.
There will be plenty of opportunities to cry later, we both figured. Looking back, it’s clear we figured right.
When we asked our 13-year-old daughter what she had learned from the experience, she said, “Never go off the path.” Everyone seemed to agree with her answer.
But that answer made me feel a little sad.
You see, I don’t want my little girl to just follow the beaten path. I want her to blaze her own trail. I want her to see sights that no one’s seen and hear sounds that no one’s heard. Sometimes that means going off the path. Sometimes that means zigging when you’re supposed to zag.
Sometimes, that means you get lost for a while.
I would hate it if my little girl spent her life blindly following the beaten path, just because she’s afraid she’ll become lost.
It’s OK, sometimes, to get lost. It’s the only way to get found.