I Became Lost
In mid-2017 I decided to leave my job. I was the Executive Director and Publisher for the Mennonite Church in the U.S. and Canada. I was ideally suited for the job and for most of my 11 years there I had enjoyed it immensely. I had reached the pinnacle of my career and had nothing left to prove to myself, or to anyone else. I had turned 60; my children had grown and were out of the house.
But the satisfaction in my work was disappearing.
Mergers and Reorganizations
The organization had gone through two major mergers and several reorganizations in my time there and we had relocated the business twice. After ten years we were half the size of what we had been a decade before. I was good at downsizing: laying off friends and coworkers, continually doing “more-with-less,” selling buildings, adapting strategic plans to changing environments. However, our constituency was irreversibly declining. Adapting to the disruption in the book publishing industry became a game of catchup.
I realized that not only was my satisfaction decreasing, so was my usefulness. So, I suggested yet one more set of staffing changes to the board of directors and “reorganized” myself out of a job, giving them six months’ to find my successor.
Leaving on Good Terms
I left my job on good terms in January of 2018 and, with my wife’s approval, took a year’s sabbatical while I figured out what to do next. I called it “downshifting.” I had decided previously that I never really wanted to retire, but rather slow down my life and commit myself to work that I loved, for as long as I lived. I hoped during that year off to find that.
During the year I also realized a 20-year dream to walk the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route that runs 500 miles through the north of Spain. I wasn’t going just to check something off a bucket list; it was to have a real, life-changing experience.
Walking the Camino de Santiago
I started in late March in the French Pyrenees and finished five weeks later, on May 3, in Santiago de Compostela. It was truly life-changing. Five weeks on foot, with no more responsibility than walking, eating, sleeping, socializing, daydreaming, drinking in history and beautiful scenery and hand-washing my clothes; all of life reduced life to its essentials, in a 16-pound pack. I was free as a bird and rediscovered the joy of simplicity.
It was when I returned that I felt lost.
In Spain, my life slowed down: at home I came face-to-face with a hurried, over-stimulated and materialistic American culture that was the antithesis of the measured and simple pace of being on a pilgrimage.
I became lost trying to fit back into regular life. My wife and children were understanding—of that, I am very grateful—but I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I was wondering, had glimpsed another side of life, and it wouldn’t leave me alone.
Finding Ourselves Lost
It was then that I came across a meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation that said this:
“When wandering there is immense value in ‘finding ourselves lost’ because when we find ourselves lost, we can find our ‘selves’… Maybe you don’t know exactly what you want, you just have a vague desire for a better place. Although it may not seem like it, you are on the threshold of a great opportunity… Though perhaps difficult, doing so will create entirely new possibilities of fulfillment.”
I relaxed. My sense of feeling lost continued for months, until one day things began to fall in place. Before I had left my job the previous year, I thought of starting a new business, helping people self-publish. Over the years the best thing about my job had been helping authors develop their thoughts and ideas into books. I wanted to keep on doing that.
While I was on my pilgrimage, besides renewal of my inner, spiritual life, I had recovered a passion for writing that had been dormant for decades.
Using My Lost State
I decided in my “lost” state that I would write a book about my pilgrimage. I had never dreamed of writing a book, but the idea suddenly made sense. And I would self-publish it. What better way to help coach others in self-publishing than to do it myself?
The project has taken me ten months, has been hard work, but also immensely satisfying. It has also helped me process the experience of my pilgrimage, to keep it and its lessons alive in my life.
And now I know about self-publishing and am already helping some clients with their own projects.
If I’d never gotten lost, I never would have discovered all this.
This post was written by Russ Eanes. Russ is a writer, walker, and cyclist from Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he lives with his wife, three of his six adult children and his five grandchildren. He also enjoys traveling, gardening, reading and photography.
In 2018 he “downshifted” to experience a less hectic pace of life and is now putting to use several decades’ experience in the publishing business to work as a freelance writer, editor, publishing coach, and consultant. His book, The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles on the Camino de Santiago, is available at Amazon.com.