Choosing Our Guide

I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Setting the scene on the plains of Middle Earth, Tolkien tells of the fiery wars against evil. He tells of a corrupt, forged ring of power and how it found its way into the hands of a Hobbit, Frodo Baggins. And he tells of the quest which Frodo must endure to destroy this ring before it destroys him. Hobbits are known for living quiet lives, removed of any sort of adventure. Frodo was no different. He had no wit of the world about him, no street smarts, no experience. Yet he was chosen for this task.

The stories with grit and substance never choose a hero who is assured a victory nor do they provide the hero with all of the answers. To do so would shortcut the beginning to the end with very little struggle in between. When it comes to story, the struggle is the engine driving the plot, motivating the characters and gripping the attention of its audience.

To relieve a story of its conflict is to rip out its heart.

Promotional image from "The Hobbit"

Promotional image from "The Hobbit"

However, while the author cannot write of an all-knowing, all-powerful hero, he cannot very well write of a helpless, flailing hero either. So he gives him a guide. The guide is the Obi-Wan Kenobi or the Fairy God Mother who walks the hero through discovering themselves - their fears, their strengths and, most importantly, their will. In doing so, the hero find the answers that they need to complete the quest that has been given to them. In Frodo's case, his guide was the beloved wizard, Gandalf - "elderly chap, big grey beard, pointy hat." We know the type.

Each of us are living our own story, tasked with our own quests. Though your quest may not have you hike across your land to the hottest volcano around, as we all can attest, each comes with its fair share of struggle. Yours may be quitting your steady, well-paying job in pursuit of starting a business that you're passionate about. Perhaps, you and your wife just had a baby and you want to be deserving of the "Greatest Dad in the World" mug. Not sure where to start? You need a guide.

Sadly, our guides don't poof out of thin air or inscribe elvish symbols on our front door with their walking stick. However, thanks to modern technology, we are given the next best thing: the ability to choose our guide(s). The reason I put an "s" in parentheses after "guide" is that we are also able to choose more than one! Imagine a guide buffet. Blogs, forums, e-books, videos, websites, twitter feeds, email - the list goes on. Resources from brilliant people are at our disposal. For them to be a guide, you don't have to go through a special ritual or take them on a date - you aren't asking them to be your bae. Simply follow their teaching which, thanks to the Internet, is incredibly easy to do.

While your guides can (and in many cases, should) be in-person, I have chosen many guides from around the world who have been instrumental in my journey. Several people who have acted as guides in my quest to live an unorthodox, vibrant lifestyle have been:

Timothy Ferriss
Chris Guillebeau
Jeremy Cowart
Chase Jarvis
Donald Miller
Bob Goff
The Minimalists
Ryan Holiday

CAUTION: Some guides would have you believe their gospel for selfish reasons. With such an array of ideas being branded as truth, it can be difficult to weed through the clutter and find the gold. For this reason, I would highly encourage you to find at least one person in your life - someone older, wiser and who loves you - who can act as the checks-and-balances for you. My checks-and-balances who happen to double as two of my guides have been my parents. That's generally a great place to start!

FURTHER THINKING: If you flip this concept on its head, you'll realize that you might someday find yourself in the position of a guide, although, depending on the circumstances, you may not even realize it. Imagine a young mind scrolling through your Facebook feed, reading your blog and imitating every move you make. The responsibility is not light; live accordingly.

Originally posted on Alex Clayton Robertson's blog.