A new movie was released this week called Wild, featuring an excellent lead actress performance by Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon plays writer Cheryl Strayed, who published the bestseller memoir Wild in 2012. Strayed has commented this week that she hadn't planned for her book to be a self-help book, but has noticed that it has hit an inspirational chord with many women.
Strayed's book portrays her as a flawed protagonist. She is at a transition point in her life: her marriage is ending, she's trying to give up her drug use, and she's never grieved the loss of her mother. She decides to hike the 1,000 mile Pacific Coast Trail, by herself. The journey gives her time to think and to process what has happened in her life, as well as challenge herself in very difficult conditions. The hike turns out to be transformational in her life. After she returns, she goes on to become an author, teach writing, remarry and raise a family of her own.
Wild lets the reader or movie fan watch the unfolding of Cheryl Strayed' s testing her own limits, learning about herself, and the emotional process of letting go of her marriage and her mother. The movie features Laura Dern in a standout performance as Cheryl's mother.
Wild has similar themes to Joan Anderson's 1999 book A Year by the Sea, where she tells of her year in a cottage at Cape Cod as she lives alone and takes a break from her long-term marriage to learn about herself. Anderson steps away from the busyness of her regular life and roles to do some important self-discovery. She realizes that in fulfilling her roles as a wife and mother, (and once her boys were raised) that her own hopes and dreams had been overtaken by those of others. In rediscovering herself, Anderson finds her true nature and new possibilities for her life. Anderson is just a more traditional woman, with a discovery journey that comes later in life, after raising her family.
Both books explore the value of women taking their own journey of self-discovery, outside of their relationships to other people. Women can be so focused on pleasing and caring for others that they don't have an opportunity to consider the dictates of their own heart. Learning to be alone with yourself and enjoy your own company is important, even if you don't want to hike the Pacific Coast Trail by yourself.
Men as well as women can benefit from the idea of taking on a challenge after going through a life transition or ending. After the end of a close relationship, or the end of a chapter of your life, settinga new goal for yourself to work towards could allow you a positive focus and a chance to reflect, integrate and grow. We all need to develop our own personal rituals for self-renewal, and cultivate the ability to be alone without being lonely. Your own self-renewal can be different than Cheryl's or Joan's, but you can use their journeys for inspiration.