The Lost Places

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

“I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it.”  Rosalía de Castro

I love quotes—they inspire me, they encourage me, they guide me, they offer words when I can find none. I collect them like one might collect coins or shells, and surround myself with them when I feel lost.

I was in a lost place for quite a while.

I think so many of us hide that feeling, that lost place, shielding ourselves instead with an “I’m fine!” for the rest of the world to see. Which makes us both lost AND alone. We despair internally and smile outwardly. We suspect we’re the only ones who have felt so alone, even when surrounded by the company of many…. not realizing how many others in the crowd are feeling exactly the same way. I’ve done this for years—surely there has never been a person so “FINE!!!!!” as me. But that was just the outside me. The inside me wasn’t fine at all.

In my experience, that internal despairing is not sustainable because ultimately it permeates every thought and feeling. If our “I’m fine!”s are like a rope that we are holding onto for dear life, those lost places inside work to fray that rope, making it thinner and thinner and harder to hold onto. The “I’m fine!”s start to sound cracked; eventually come out in a whisper. And then one day the rope just snaps.

The “I’m fine!” rope will always snap eventually, if it’s only covering up an internal lost place.

And thank God it does.

Thank God.

Because once it snaps and the “I’m fine!”s are gone, and we are left exposed and revealed to the rest of the world as we truly are….   well, we’re no longer alone. We look around and see a sea of other people who have let go of their “I’m fine!”s, whether they wanted to or not.  And then a new kind of lost takes over, but this one is different. This one is more of a “well, what am I supposed to do now?”

Alan Alda said it pretty well when he said:  “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself.” 

Whether we can see it right away or not, what a gift it is to lose the safety and comfort that we thought the “fine”s were providing us and head straight into the wilderness. I’m staring at the wilderness right now, and even though it’s scary as hell, it’s also such a relief. I didn’t realize how much weight I was carrying around in the form of the “fine.”  I don’t think I ever want to use that word again.

So I guess I’ve come to realize there are two ways to be lost. There is the internal despairing lost place, where we suffer alone and where we suffer mightily.  And then there is the external lost place… where we step out from the shadows and into the light, and into the company of others, and admit we’re completely lost…. but willing and excited to find our way.

So I will end as I began:

“I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it.”  Rosalía de Castro

How can you get lost on a path to discovering the true you today?

(and please trust me when I say you are not alone on this path)

As we look toward a new school year, remember that the external “fines” are sometimes hiding a different truth. As you begin to work with your colleagues and your students and your community, hold that close to your heart and remember to “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about.” (multiple attributions)


September is National Recovery Month, in recognition of mental and substance use disorders and in support and celebration of those on the path of recovery. For more information, visit

This week in September is also Suicide Prevention Week. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available. Call 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for free and confidential support.


Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.