Have you ever gotten in your car and chosen a direction rather than a destination? Taken a few days off or maybe even a week and just said, I’m going West, rather than, I’m spending a few days in the Black Hills. You just drive knowing your direction and see how far it takes you. When you get hungry you find a restaurant, when you get tired you start looking for hotels. You spend a few hours in one town then spend a day exploring another you never heard of, and then stop at a historical marker or two. Maybe you never even make it that far. Maybe West was just two hours away and you stay put until you need to start heading home. I love those kind of trips. I know for many others the very thought gives them heart palpitations but for me its truly invigorating.
Growing up we would do trips the way I described frequently. My family spent a lot of time on the water. We would take our boat out on Lake Michigan and just ride around looking at rocks, visiting islands, and stopping at a town or two. I can’t say that I loved every stop along the way but I did love just going where the wind takes you. Perhaps my parents actually did have a plan for the day but I didn’t know it. It felt simultaneously exciting and calming to just be in the moment and enjoying whatever struck our fancy on the lake.
As I got older, and planned my own trips with other people, the directional goal shifted to more of a destination. It seemed to become more about packing as much into the time as possible. Those vacations exhaust me. Sure you experience a lot and you have many different pictures to show off of all the things you did but you (or at least I) come back tired and needing a vacation from the vacation. It seems as though you hit all of the highlights but get none of the content, like reading a great novel in bullet format. What’s the point? I have walked through museums where I couldn’t tell you a single thing I’ve learned once I leave. I’ve gone hiking or snowshoeing where the pace was such that I had to focus on my feet to ensure I didn’t fall rather than taking in the nature around me. I have gone to local restaurants, steeped with culture and history, only to check the time before we even sit down to make sure we’re on schedule. I have hustled kids through petting zoos for the appropriate photo-op without letting them discover new creatures. I have sat in theaters waiting for shows to start, considering if a delay will impact the end time which could affect timing with traffic to be able to get to the next destination. (That’s a pretty short list and even that is exhausting.)
When I have traveled alone and have all the control over what I do and for how long, I actually tend to do the opposite. I am so overwhelmed by the possibilities or afraid of what I might encounter, that I end up holing up in the hotel room and never seeing what is beyond my window. What if I waste the time or money doing something that wasn’t worth it? What if it’s not safe? What if I get lost and my navigation doesn’t work and then my phone goes dead and I run out of gas?! (Not likely but a legitimate worm hole my mind has traveled down.)
So here I am, talking about the ideal but actually living on either end of the spectrum. I want to immerse myself in the experience but am either too busy or too scared to actually live it out. It is easy for me to stand on a soap box and profess to enjoy the ride, it’s the journey not the destination, be brave and relish the adventure but I’m not living it out.
Right now you may be thinking, Wow Kel, putting an awful lot of emphasis on proper vacation strategies. How often do we do that though, how many different instances do you have an opinion or a goal or an expectation that is then thrown entirely off course when we put it into practice. Personally, in real time, I’m processing this through two questions; what is my end goal and why am I afraid?
Consider what your end goal is, as opposed to that of what you think it should be or what others’ would have as theirs. If you’re still strictly looking at this through a vacation lens, why do you want to hit all the spots and do all the things? Is it because you want to have the best posts about vacation? Or maybe it’s because all of your friends suggested different things you should do or try? Perhaps you need to reexamine the amount of time you took to include it all? Let’s branch out from there though. What about in communicating with your team, be that team at work, your family, a social or community club? Do you say you want collaboration and then dismiss any ideas that don’t come from your own mind? Those actions might be enabling you to make progress quickly sure but it doesn’t align with what you said the strategy was. Follow that bunny trail until you figure out why. Another example that often resonates with people is career pathing. What are your career goals? Are you working toward them, or are you saying them and then following the steps to achieve the goals your parents, your partner, or your friends would set for you? Are you doing that because you don’t want to disappoint them? Is it easier to follow their more traditional path? Are you altering your plan to avoid an uncomfortable conversation?
We often just want to see activity and we assume that the activity will move us in the right direction. The truth is if you don’t understand how the activity relates to your end goal the odds of it moving you in the right direction are slim. Imagine your trip West without a map or sense of direction. You might go East, North, or South and probably make a few circles none of which got you any closer to where you actually wanted to go. Sometimes it takes realizing what the incongruency in your end goal and your actions is to identify and address the outside factors.
On the other end of the spectrum we have fear. If not understanding your end goal is like driving without a map then fear is like getting all packed up and never starting the engine. Again I believe it all comes back to why. Why are you afraid? In the travel space I know exactly what I’m afraid of, I’m afraid of getting lost. The question is why? I am afraid of it because it happens so darn often to me. I get lost all the time. Why does that happen? It happens because I follow GPS without actually thinking about where I’m going and then seconds before a turn I decide I am smarter than the computer and do something other than what that pretentious little voice told me to. OK. (That might have hit a sore spot but the answer is out.) So now that I better understand it I can make a decision to either, pay more attention so that I do know where I am or where I’m going without the GPS or actually follow it. You can do the same with any other example too just make sure you’re asking why and not what. Consider communication again. If you’re not sharing your thoughts on a particular subject and are withholding information, why? Maybe you are afraid it will come across wrong or you won’t communicate it properly. Why? It could be a difficult topic or message that is hard to deliver. Why? It might be something that you don’t particularly agree with or like. Why? You may not fully understand it or the ramifications. OK. Before you communicate get a better understanding. If you can’t, explain that you trust and support whomever the decision making entity is but that you’re asking more questions yourself to better understand.
The gift of fear is awareness. Being aware of why you’re afraid doesn’t get rid of fear, it does help you to better equip yourself so that you can act in the face of fear (that’s how I define bravery). In neither of my examples did I say they weren’t legitimate fears or to ignore it, I came up with tools or resources based on why I was afraid.
Are you ever going to live completely independently of what other’s expect or never let fear impact your decisions, very likely not. The moral of both is move to middle ground. Don’t generate activity and hit everything you can just because it seems like the thing to do, and don’t become paralyzed by fear. It is the journey that makes life worth living and if you’re not enjoying it, or you’re so stuck you haven’t even started, you’re missing it. You are missing the best part. The messy, broken, wrong turn that leads to seeing the most magnificent sight type of best part. There is no crystal ball that will get you magically down the right path with no errors and no fear along the way but if you intentionally choose your steps and use your new found awareness as your compass all of the wrong turns will be worth it.
Things I’m reminding myself of
Your actions do not need to align with goals, plans, or priorities of someone else; they need to further yours. Reread that, and again. It’s ok to have the different goals, it’s ok to have similar goals. You might decide to align yours with your partner, your friends, your workplace but once you have decided on what they are then match up the actions.
You don’t have to love every stop along the way to enjoy the journey. You sometimes have to stop to remind yourself to breath it in; in the good times and the bad. Let yourself feel the joy, the warmth, the achievement as well as the discomfort, the pain, and the frustration. You can hold all of them simultaneously which I am so grateful for. Holding on to and truly experiencing all of them is to truly live life abundantly.