Over 60% of high school seniors in America go straight to college after graduating. Of the other 40%, some will get jobs or internships. Some will go to trade school. And some might be totally lost — unsure about their future, and what they want it to look like. But Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston thinks that being lost can be a good thing.
Cranston’s own journey of self-discovery started on a two-year motorcycle trip he embarked upon with his brother in the 1970s. The freedom of exploration, sleeping wherever he could lay his sleeping bag, and living without an itinerary, helped him find what he really wanted, which was to become an actor — not a policeman, as he had thought in high school.
Overall, Cranston’s message is clear: Embrace the unknown, wander, and allow yourself to get lost. Through travel and exploration, one can gain a sense of direction and self-governance that cannot be found in the rigid and unrealistic expectations of a high-productivity society. To know what you really want, you have to go out and find it.
Cranston: Americans have a lot of great qualities, and one of it is a general work ethic, I think. We're a nation of hard workers, and that being said, I think sometimes we reach down too far into our youth and expect them to produce sooner than they should be able to. I think people gain a tremendous amount of wisdom when they travel, when they wander, when they allow themselves, as I did, to get lost. And maybe you'll find yourself somewhere.
At least, traveling forces you to be social, you have to get directions, you have to learn where things are, you're attuned to your environment. You have to be more careful about the weather and where your lodging is going to be, where you're going to eat, how you're going to get from one place to another. When you're there, what is it you want to see? How can you find a place for you to actually just rest? It's an experience like no other.
I love to travel, and I enjoy not knowing where I am. It's an unusual thing: I tell it and I purposefully teach that to my daughter, who's now 24 years old, to not be afraid of not knowing where you are. So I'll go for a drive or go for a walk in a different city and my wife will say, "Do you know where you're going?" "Not really, just kind of exploring different places," and as long as you have a sense of direction, you'll find your way, you'll figure it out. And I do that in foreign countries as well, just kind of wander and meander, and trust that you've paid attention to at least the basic requirement of where you have to get back to in order to find your way home.
I think we look down now to 16-year-olds and say, "Where are you gonna go to college? What are you going to do for the rest of your life?" And it's like, they're not fully baked yet. How do they know? Give them a break. Just say, "Look, I think after high school, take a year off, take two years off. Join the Peace Corps, travel, go figure things out, or just enjoy yourself." For the first time in their lives, they're adults and they don't have to be somewhere, they're not told to be somewhere. Get used to that freedom, get used to having the need to self-govern yourself, to be able to employ self-discipline or not.
Or you realize, "Oh my God, I'm really slovenly. If I'm not told I need to go to class, I don't go." You might discover something about yourself. "I need order, I need that, I like that." Some people love to be said, "This is where you have to be, and this is what you need to do." Are you that type of person, or are you a type of person that wants more freedom in your life? And I think exploration, travel, it provides that.
In 1976, I had just finished my second year of college and realized that after an experience in an elective acting class, that I wasn't going to be the policeman I thought I was gonna be. That it was better if I didn't continue on with two more years of an administration of justice major, because I knew I wasn't going to become a policeman. So, I thought I better just go figure out what it is I want to do. And so I hopped on the back of a motorcycle: My brother was in the same position, really, two young guys who were not quite sure what was in store for them, and what avenue they should go down, so we both hopped on our motorcycles and we took off.
We left California; I had about 150 bucks in my pocket or something, and soon ran low of funds, and we had to get jobs along the way. What was great about it is that we had total freedom. We didn't know exactly where we were going. We didn't know how long we were going to stay in any given town. If it appealed to us, we would stay and explore different places and historical sites. If it didn't appeal to us, we took off again. We slept on golf courses, on cemeteries, back of mortuaries, schools- anywhere we can throw a sleeping bag. An old patch of grass, and that was our home for the night. And I was 19, 20 years old.
It was fun, and you could do that then. And that's the time you want to do it. That's the age you want to do it. And in retrospect, I realized that I took off on this trip, which lasted two full years, in an effort to allow myself to get lost, to be lost, and to figure out while I'm gone, what it is I really should be doing with my life. So I finally determined it was something where I wanted to allow myself to get lost so that I could be found, basically, is what it was. And after two years, it was during that trip that I had an epiphany that I really wanted to become an actor and do everything I could to put myself in a position to make a living, and be a professional actor for the rest of my life.