Most of our fantasies include a tropical paradise on some island with perfect whether and lazy days. We see it in movies, advertisements and in our dreams; these landscapes and sunsets that pull our thoughts thousands of miles from the present. Its ironic how we crave this escape, especially when life is pouring down on us, yet being on an island can be one of the most difficult and lonely periods in our life. In a literal sense, away from the resorts and night life, an island can be a desolate wasteland of isolation in spite of plush comfort or paradisiacal conditions. This struggle is literally demonstrated by the character in “Cast Away,” played by Tom Hanks. Even though this movie is not very old, this struggle is nothing new. In the times of the Ancient Greeks, during the Trojan War, the archer, Philoctetes, was abandoned to rot away on a small island for a duration of ten years. Both of these men suffered tremendously, not only with survival, but with constant isolation. They were not merely on an island physically, but mentally as well.
The island that inspired these words is not one in the physical sense, like these men endured, but the mental island that beaches our vessels so gently, so subtly, that we often don’t even realize we have been marooned. This place is a mental separation, an emotional distance from our peers and passers by. There isn’t just one, either. Your prison of solitude can derive from many facets of life and can envelope many, all, or just a few of the traits that combine to make us individuals. Some are common, allowing for abundant identification with others trapped on the same island. Simply calling out and making yourself heard while exploring its shores is enough to find others suffering the same experience, just out of sight. I traversed these types of archipelagoes when I was younger. Questions of sexuality, maturing faster than my peers through experience or hardship, not maturing in different ways, taste in music or fads, intellect and even physical ability or emotional comprehension are just some examples of possible islands. Most of the time, though, only parts of my person felt stranded. Finding common ground with multiple individuals across the array of my emotions and personality was enough to feel whole. This is often called, “growing up.”
But then some are not so common. Some islands are tiny; so small and distant from the major currents that it can be hard to imagine how any poor soul would ever find themselves washed up on its beautiful beaches. On these islands, you may look from one side to the other along the shore and surmise from the curve of the land that it would take only a few minutes to travel all the way around, so you begin to explore. You set off in one direction with optimism that you will come upon another lonely cast away with the constant feeling that the next corner will reveal your footprints wandering off in front of you. With the amount of turns all favoring one direction, the island must be small, yet you travel for an impossible distance and never see the sand where your little raft slumps, awaiting your return. You find no one and at this point, just the reassurance that you at least tried, explored the whole island, would be a welcome concession, but corner after corner, bluff after outcropping, your effort is not rewarded. At first, nearing the proximity of one of these visual impediments inspired hope and excitement that just around the bend you would see proof that you had once been there. Your speed increased and your stride found its bounce only to have your heart dropped to the ground; every time from a higher distance until you no longer allowed yourself to believe your boat would be there. You still walk, however, for a time, until finally, that voice in the back of your head that had been flirting with the idea of turning around is no longer whispering; it shrieks and screams louder with each disappointment. Finally, you sit down, abandoning your quest for the beginning of your journey, to start a new one with the purpose of investigating the integrity of your sanity.
I call this island, “No Man’s Land.” In the Great War, this was the wasteland between the trenches of the opposing forces front lines. This space was sometimes not much farther than throwing distance, yet may have well been ten thousand miles as it was impossible to cross. Machine guns and hundreds of men entrenched on either side meant certain death to any brave enough to attempt an advancement to the opposite side. I cannot begin to fathom the idea of following such an order and yet, it was done; with honor, tenacity and profound bravery, “no man’s land” was crossed. Although I would never equate my struggles and character to those men, I face a similar barrier, along with many others.
I am sure there are other circumstances that would find one on the type of island that engulfs the entirety of ones life, but mine is a combination of personal discovery dominated by entrepreneurship. Anyone that has sought to forge their own path in the hope of achieving their dreams would recognize this struggle. Success, in any aspect of life, requires a dedication and commitment known to very few. Before I set off in my little boat, I would see people that had the lifestyles that many of us dream about, but failed to see how they got there. How could I? The time between deciding to chase a dream and it coming to fruition is one of obscurity. A massive ice berg towering above the water begins as just one small piece of ice. In order to posses the buoyancy to rise any noticeable height out of the water, the iceberg must grow to a massive size and even then, we only see the very tip. Well, that is what success is like; we only see the tip that is visible above the water. The years spent building a foundation capable of supporting an astronomical rise out of obscure anonymity to validated, indisputable success is never apparent and seldom witnessed.
Many who undertake this challenge, soon come to the realization that, ahead of them, lies “no man’s land,” which is why so few make it to the other side. The commitment required to make this journey involves doing things that don’t have any immediate benefit, like working for almost nothing or passing up opportunities to make good money. The trade off is the knowledge, experience and personal development that will enable them to make their dreams a reality. Most of us either don’t know what we truly desire or simply are content to do without, which is absolutely fine. However, for others, like myself that have the blessing or curse, depending on perspective, of understanding that what we seek can never be given to us by anyone else, we face a difficult choice. Once an idea or a dream takes form, it can never be simply forgotten. Either, you climb out of your trench and start sprinting, or you spend your life peering over the dirt to where you really want to be.
I know there are others sprinting across this same expanse of land, but they are very few. Many are turned back after only a few steps when the rounds start flying and the voice of doubt inside their head gets too loud to ignore. Most remain safely in the trench with looks of confusion upon their face as to why anyone would ever try to make the run in the first place. Out there between the lines, between desire and accomplishment, there are no trees or rocks to give shelter from the onslaught, you simply have to keep going forward. This usually means altering habits and allocating time and energy to what is ahead of you, leaving almost no time for your old comforts and companions. It is possible to return after making it to the other side, but if you spend too much time turning around to wave to your old life, you won’t make it. Although it is possible to accomplish goals relatively quickly, its usually a journey that takes years and when you are finished, you won’t be the same person you were at the beginning.
This is where I exist, somewhere between desire and accomplishment. This is where my island is. Even though there are plenty of others making similar sprints, my life, personality and individual path has carried me to a place where few ever go. Some of the separations I feel are by choice, to stay true to who I am, and others are out of my control because of what I am trying to achieve. All I know is that if I never stop sprinting, someday I will reach the other side of this “no man’s land” to where my dreams await my arrival. My happiness is not contingent on reaching the other side, though, and success should not be synonymous with happiness because it is not. Instead, I take comfort in the fact that I am fighting for a better future and am struggling on a path that has the potential to bring me to where I want to go. This is more than satisfactory. I still have the choice to enjoy my life everyday and Ill never stop exploring my island, because someday, Ill either find my boat to continue on, or find another lonely traveler to enjoy paradise with until I find a way to the other side. 🙂