If I’m honest with myself about whose life really resonates with me, it’s Gandalf.
For a long time this bothered me. I was worried you couldn’t like a wizard without wearing black all the time and playing D&D or LARPing. Instead I wanted to identify with Aragorn, seeing as how both of us are in leadership positions, frequently unshaven, and also closer in age. But no luck. It was when beholding the life of Gandalf that I got that glint in my eye.
I have a friend who loves to travel. You can name almost any place she’s never been and she’ll say, “Yes, let’s go there! I’ve never been.”
If you ask me the same question I’ll look at you quizzically and say, “Why? What for? Why that place and not another?”
The difference is that she cares foremost about relationships and experiences, which travel does much to foster. I on the other hand, a strict utilitarian, care mostly about progressing toward goals. In which case you can’t just travel anywhere: some places are conducive, if not critical, to certain goals. Other places, no matter how positive one’s state of mind, will prove a hindrance.
This is why I abhor the typical notion of “vacation” with its license to overeat, drink too much, and impulse buy. Vacation from what? From my goals, intelligence, and principles?
Gandalf doesn’t vacation that way either. He always travels with purpose. He doesn’t just go somewhere because it sounds nice or seems exotic or has a different culture or interesting foods. He travels because there is someone he must meet or something he must learn or do.
This doesn’t mean getting in and out, all business, no play, without stopping to take it all in, mix with locals, or let some current of life carry you. But all that happens against a backdrop of a mission, even if it changes along the way.
When I figured out how to travel without vacationing, the world opened up for me. I went to Cambridge to sample its intellectual capital. I studied writing in New York. I went to Zurich to visit a school of esoteric psychology. Each time a mission; each place pertinent to my goals.
Then there’s the way Gandalf leads. He’s not your day to day leader like Aragorn. His default position isn’t by your side or out a few feet ahead. You can’t count on him to be there when you’re afraid, to be an ever present comforter, to stay awake guarding the camp while everyone sleeps. Gandalf shows up briefly and strategically. Usually it means he has some insight, or that you’ve gotten off course, or to nudge you toward your destiny.
He’s not a tactical leader so much as a visionary. He puts an idea in your head of some future possibility; a goal that is desirable or of import. He points you in a direction then leaves; off to do who knows what, who knows where. No one expects Gandalf to be at the office the next morning sitting at his desk at 9am.
There’s this scene in the Lord of the Rings where some difficulty arises and Gandalf says something like, “I must seek the counsel of my order,” and goes riding off on his horse. I like that a lot. So much so, that I’m forming an order of my own.
Who will be in the order? Other wizards. People who have achieved mastery of certain skills and expertise in certain domains. People who know unusual things. People who would like to know the unusual things I know.
It need not be a formal organization. Things like this tend to go sideways and get bogged down with administration the moment you try to codify them. Better if it is a secret order — so secret it’s members do not even know. (Sign me up for a cryptic insignia though)
I explained this to one member of the order who I’d traveled a long way to see, and he told me that he had a friend doing something similar. When he asked this friend where he was investing his money (stocks, real-estate etc.), his friend replied that he was spending on traveling to see the people he wanted to meet. He expected those conversations would yield dividends no traditional investment could.
That’s my plan too. If there is someone out there who I should meet, someone who should be part of the Order, then distance shall prove no barrier.
And how great will it be when someone asks whether I’ll be traveling for business or pleasure (a question I hate), to respond: I must seek the counsel of one of my order, and leave it at that.
Then there is Gandalf’s simply being a wizard, which itself appeals to me. But why? With Middle Earth long gone what good does it do to think of being a wizard today?
Then I thought, well what is a wizard essentially? And arrived at this conclusion: a wizard is learned, yet highly practical. A lover of powerful knowledge that tends to be obscure. Nor is it enough for a wizard to simply possess such knowledge — it is sought in order to wield.
Then I arrived at my definition of a wizard, or at least the kind I want to be, the kind I want to meet, and the kind that will form my Order: those who wield rare knowledge for good.