What Direction Are You Headed?

“YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE.” My Maine friends tell me that’s a common response to give tourists who don’t appreciate the mountainous or cove-studded terrain of that state. The first time I heard it, I thought “That’s nonsense – of course you can get anywhere from where you are.” What I realized they meant is that you can’t get there if you keep going in the direction you’re pointed.

When I travel, I often rely upon my portable GPS device or Mapquest directions. Mapquest asks me such helpful questions as:

• Shortest time? Or shortest distance?

What it never asks me is if I want to avoid the mess of The Big Dig in Boston or the DC Beltway at rush hour. Nope, it’s up to me to make alternate decisions when I’m faced with those unexpected surprises. The map and step-by-step directions make it look simple and straightforward to get from where I am to where I want to be.

Our lives are much like a Mapquest direction sheet. You start out with a printed map and what seem to be turn-by-turn directions but then you come upon 17 miles of taillights because an oil tanker has overturned on the road ahead. Who knows when the traffic will clear! You can stay in the traffic and fume about how unfair it is, how it’s delaying your arrival and costing you money. You can be a lunatic blowing your horn or pacing the shoulder of the road shouting into your cell phone, or you can take a breath, be grateful you weren’t the guy just helicoptered from the scene or his family. Then you can start thinking about finding an alternate route. You might get off the highway, have dinner and wait for the traffic to clear. You might call someone on your cell phone and ask them to give you directions on side streets. Maybe, just maybe, you might decide to cut your own suffering and try to enjoy this alternate route you’re forced to take. After all, life’s about the journey, not just the destination.

The difference is, if it’s only an overturned oil tanker on the road, you know that at some point they’ll get it cleared and traffic will begin to move. In this market, it’s more like a giant sinkhole just occurred and swallowed up several lanes of the highway. There’s no telling if it will be weeks or years before crews will be able to repair the damage. It might never return to its former wide path of lifestyle mobility. Waiting it out probably isn’t realistic for most of us.

When I make a turn from the pre-programmed instructions, my GPS device urges me to “Return to the highlighted route.” But sometimes, I just listen patiently while it tells me “Recalculating Route”.

Each of us has an internal GPS device to help us recalculate our route. Sometimes our detour sped us along the career highway and this is an opportunity to return to the highlighted route toward our family. Other times, this detour returns us to simpler times of hosting friends for a potluck dinner and playing a card game together. For some of us, seemingly without a map, following the stars by moving into a new but lesser paying position in a completely different field that holds a passion for you (an arts and crafts gallery, a teaching position, being a scuba instructor). Others will pull off the road, sit in a diner and enjoy a book like The Number by Lee Eisenberg which talks about how much is really enough, or How to Find Your Mission in Life by Richard Bolles, and then revise their map given these changing conditions.

What doesn’t work is staying stuck in the traffic fuming and hoping. By all signs, the road isn’t going to return anytime soon to its formerly high speed six-lane condition we became accustomed to. You’re going to be “late” arriving “there.” Recalculate your route, align your economic goals, expenses and lifestyle, and do it soon. It might, in fact, take us each a while to get back on the road we had planned. Ultimately, if you really want to reach your destination, you’ll get there. The real surprise will be how many interesting experiences you’ll be able to relate to the others when you arrive.






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