Several years ago, I drove with a coworker from Woodridge to Springfield, IL on a business trip. This was in an age before GPS and Mapquest. Instead of using technology, I relied on a map and a highlighter. But whatever tools you use to plan a trip, they don’t help much if you don’t use them.
Driving South that Sunday afternoon, Allan and I had no shortage of conversation. We talked about the meeting we would run the next day in the Springfield office, choosing to spend those three hours in our rolling cubicle being productive. The drive past without incident, and we quickly found our hotel a block away from the office.
The meeting on Monday went fine, as I recall. It was a long day at work, and we knew that it wouldn’t come to an end until we got back to Woodridge and resumed our normal routines of commuting to Chicago come Tuesday morning.
We got back into my car and immediately started debriefing the day. While I drove, Allan took notes. By talking through our findings and recommendations now we could, once again, maximize our drive time. The write-up took nearly an hour and a half. Allen read his notes back to me as the sun began to set, and I have to say that we had done some rather impressive work. I saw him struggle to read some of his notes, and I joked with him that perhaps he needed to retake a class on penmanship.
“No, my writing’s fine,” he responded. “But the sun is in my eyes.”
Allan kept reading as I drove into the setting sun on the horizon. Then it dawned on me that the day before, while driving to Springfield, the sun had blinded me around the same time of day while we neared the hotel. How could the sun have been in my eyes yesterday at this time when I was driving South and West and still be in my eyes today when I’m driving North and East? I wondered.
At the same moment, I became distracted by a sight off to the left side of the highway. In someone’s yard sat a giant Ferris Wheel reflecting sunlight off the shiny painted cars.
“Look at that!” I said to Allan. “That’s something you don’t see everyday.”
“Yeah,” Allan said as his mind started to piece together the mystery. “And it’s not something we saw yesterday, either, when we were on this same highway….”
We drove in silence for a few minutes until we passed a sign that said: I-55 SOUTH.
“Um, we’re heading to St. Louis, aren’t we?” I asked as my face became a large, hairy beet.
“You think?” Allan shot back.
So there it is. For ninety minutes we were having a productive drive, eating up miles of highway while getting our work done. The time flew by and our office on wheels served as a nice place to produce some good work. But once we knew that we had been driving in the wrong direction, the sedan felt more like a coffin.
Allan was always the smart one, so I wasn’t surprised when he felt the need to summarize the situation.
“So, we’ve driven about 90 minutes out of our way. From the moment we turn around, we will need another 90 minutes just to get back to the point where we have a three hour drive. That means,” he continued while my computer-quick brain did the calculations.
It means I’m going to be in the car with someone who thinks I’m an idiot for twice as long as I should be.
The drive home didn’t feel as quick, productive, or fun.
Have you ever been lost, either on a trip or on your life’s journey? It can happen for any number of reasons. Maybe you stopped paying attention along the way. Maybe you were so impatient to get started that you didn’t ask for help along the way. Perhaps you did seek help, but you were given bogus directions from those whose help you sought. Or, maybe like me, you switched on autopilot figuring that the direction your headed last time got you to your destination, so you kept that programming in your mind even though it took you in the opposite direction you intended.
In general, it’s better to avoid getting lost in the first place. Ask for help from those you trust, those who have been there before you. Write notes to yourself. Verify your path along the way, noting signs and milestones. Resist the urge to go on autopilot during the journey. And if you have a compass or a road map, use it!
If you do everything in your power and still end up lost, don’t panic. Find someone you trust to help you get back on the right road. There’s no shame in being lost; there is, however, shame in knowing that you’re lost and choosing to stay lost for longer than necessary. Find the first possible exit where you can turn things around, and do so promptly.
And if you can help it, don’t go on a road trip or on your journey through life with a wisenheimer. Otherwise, your trip will feel much longer and more painful than it needs to be…