Life’s Scenic Route or Straightaway

When it’s time to be okay with being lost, inefficient and imperfect.

When I was single and directionally challenged, driving out of the Niagara Region was always a big deal for me. Until marrying the man who fused my addiction to GPS convenience, I relied on paper road maps to get around. A cell phone was a luxury my budget could afford. Each venture to a destination outside my home town felt like a courageous accomplishment. When I drove with others, I felt the pressure to know where I was going and how to get there directly without any second-guessing or turnaround. I felt stupid whenever I missed a turn or lost my sense of direction, so if someone were in my passenger seat, I’d either be extra stressed and silent or uber cheerful to cover up the stress.

Even if I were driving on my own, any kind of purposeless driving felt like a waste of time, gas budget and opportunity.

After all, I could be doing…other stuff.

One evening, an hour from home, I tossed my overnight bag in my trunk after a two-day workshop, getting ready to head home. With hours of inspiration and transformational experiences mulling around my mind, I felt relaxed and reflective.

I’d traveled this route a few times, so instead of looking over the map, I just started driving, energetic music saturating the car. I came to the first crossroads. The green sign told me I should turn right to get to back to the highway. The other arrow said going straight would lead to Dundas. That was the small town where my aunt lived. I hadn’t been there often, but I knew it eventually could meet up with the 403 Highway.

Straight ahead, the sun painting majestic strokes of pink and orange across the sky. Drawing a deep breath, I found myself going straight instead of right.

No map.

No directions.

I just drove straight into the sunset and followed signs toward Dundas, trusting I’d end up somewhere familiar.

Perfectionism heckled me. What if you’re wrong? You’ll waste gas you can’t afford. You’ll get lost. It’s getting dark you’ll have to ask for directions from some creep at night.

But I had all evening. I didn’t have anywhere to be or anything that absolutely needed to be done. So why not have an adventure?

I drove till I came to what Ontarians call a mountain. To a West Coast girl who came from the daily view of the Cascade and Rocky Mountains, calling an escarpment a mountain seemed pretty lame. Yet when the road left behind open fields, curved up the wooded mini-mountain and seemed to disembark from civilization, I began to freak out inside. With a narrow curb, blind corners and no driveways, there was no place to pull over if I wanted.

Snapping off the music, I gripped the steering wheel.

Streetlights disappeared. Road signs to Dundas vanished. I had no context for where I was anymore. As the sunset settled into darkness, I was just about to risk pulling along the narrow curb to consult my map, when I saw it. The quaint downtown situated on a woody hill. I recognized being here before visiting my aunt.

Still refusing to bow to my map, I stubbornly chose to give myself a chance to find my way by looking outward, not down. Fear and caution had always picked my path before. Today I wanted courage to be my navigator. I circled the block a few times, searching through glint of brake lights, traffic lights and neon store signs for the highway signs. Seeing gas stations and Tim Hortons popping up everywhere, I felt reassured. Now I could ask for directions if I absolutely had to.

Eventually, I made it to the highway — and even managed to get on the right on-ramp toward home. Merging into the flow of traffic through the “mountain”, I let out a whoosh of breath and relaxed the shoulders that had been hunched around my neck. When I switched on my music, this time the tunes were serene.

I had always known my destination.

I even had a map on how to get there, which I had used many times. But this time, releasing my rules and expectations expanded my sense of adventure, deepened my self-trust and redefined what success looked like for me.

Lessons from Taking the Scenic Route

Just because you feel lost doesn’t mean you are

Every time I’ve taken a scenic route somewhere, whether I’m consulting my map or winging it, there always comes a point when the road seems to detour off course. You have no idea where you are or why the road is going that way. When you can see where the road will end up or the navigational signs lag for a while, it’s easy to second-guess yourself. Soon enough you end up going in the direction that makes sense. You can pry your white knucks from the steering wheel and smile at the scenery.

I’ve had this same feeling when I’ve dared to choose new paths in life. When I starting writing the book I’m preparing to publish, I wrote over half the first messy draft in 3 months, then set it aside. I didn’t know if what I had enough credibility to share what I was talking about. I didn’t know if it was “right” — if I could trust my own perspective on the experiences and principles I was writing about. Setting it aside would give me a chance to work through the principles with more clients and find more stories than my own to fortify the message. Three years later, when I finished the first draft, I realized half the stories I had included in the book were ones I already had on hand at the time of my first draft. The main principles of the book had remained the same. Had I pushed through, I could have finished the draft with what I had.

So was the scenic route worth it?

Absolutely. Because what I learned interviewing new entrepreneurs and moms for my book both confirmed I was on to something and flushed out a core message I hadn’t wanted to accept. The journey through the windy road strengthened my character and broadened my perspective, giving me greater confidence in my message.

It’s okay to be lost

Even if I technically wasn’t lost on that scenic route, feeling like I was forced me to define my relationship with lostness. Before, comments such as “you’re so directionally challenged” stuck to me like Velcro. I claimed it as my identity and faked laughing about it because crying about it wasn’t attractive. Perfectionism told me being lost meant I had missed the mark and that was bad. If I wasn’t adequate in one area, that must mean I didn’t have enough reliability and value to offer anywhere else in life.

Of course, I never consciously thought any of this. It was just a sneaking suspicion I hid in the closet of my heart.

While I knew my destination, how I defined success changed that evening. No longer did success mean getting somewhere the perfect, most direct, efficient way. It meant learning about myself along the way, experiencing something new and testing how much I trusted guy and what I knew already. Suddenly, getting lost didn’t mean failure or lack of worth. It meant I was letting courage out for its run.

The scenic route experience became my secret confidence. By changing my relationship with being lost, I replaced my Velco with Teflon. “Directionally challenged” became an occasional fact rather than my identity.

Sometimes the point isn’t the point

I thought being successful and purposeful in life meant always having a goal, achieving that goal, and getting there the most direct way possible. I wanted conversations to have a point, and meetings to have an agenda and stick to it. Every advice out there for life and business seemed to tell me I was supposed to know what I wanted and go for it. And I agreed wholeheartedly.

But there was a problem.

I’m known to ramble in conversations more often than not.

I only knew what I wanted from life half the time.

When I did figure out what I wanted and set goals, life rarely turned out that way. My first marriage at age 23 ended three years later. My goal to attend school in Australia got waylaid by a car purchase that slurped up my savings and a relationship I didn’t expect. My path to settle on a coaching niche wandered in circles for years. Even though I knew the “right” answers that should have led me on a direct path, the circles I wandered were what helped grow confidence in my calling.

Efficiency certainly has its place and purpose. But if we’re always focused on the straightaway path to our goals, without taking a breather to explore the scenic route once in a while, we might miss some profound revelations about what we’re capable of and what we forgot we wanted from life.

How do you know when it’s time to take the scenic route adventure?

It’s worth considering taking the detour when…

  • You’ve been too busy to think, feel or reflect
  • You’re feeling on the edge of burnout, and striving for perfection and success isn’t leading where you thought it would
  • You’re lost inspiration for the book you’re writing, the project you started, the relationship that’s grown stale
  • You need to make a major life shift and you’re too scared to break out of the box of expectations, routines and predictability you’re in
  • Fear has been running your life and courage needs its turn
  • Stress has had too much of a grip on you
  • Your family needs an adventure together
  • You want to spend a fun time with someone special
  • You’ve just read a book or gone through a course that’s leading to transformative

If you can relate to any of the above, let your adventure begin!

Have you ever felt lost or took a memorable scenic route? What did you learn from your experience?

I‘m a mom, purpose coach and author of Dare to Decide: Discovering Peace, Clarity and Courage at Life’s Crossroads (July 2020).

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