We’re taking a road trip, and we have two options for how to travel: the highway or a tunnel.
Along the highway, there are rest stops. So maybe you need to pee, and you see the sign for a rest stop and you exit to the rest stop. Once there, you realize you’re hungry, and so you eat. Then, well-rested, you get back on the road. When you reach your destination, you are well-rested and in good spirits.
Maybe stopping at the rest stop makes your trip take longer. But when you get to your destination, you are really there. You’re ready to go. You can be present.
Maybe stopping at the rest stop doesn’t take that much longer. Maybe at the rest stop you learn about a shortcut to your destination. Some new road that isn’t on the map. A way to get there that the GPS didn’t reveal. Maybe it’s a faster route, and you get to your destination more quickly.
And maybe it’s not faster, but just more scenic. And so you get to your destination a little later, but filled up from the beauty of the scenery you passed on your journey.
Maybe at the rest stop you decide that you no longer want to go to the destination you had picked out in the first place. You evaluate where you are going and why you are going there. Perhaps stick with your plan, and you decide where you’ll go next.
Driving on the highway allows you to evaluate the environment and the options available to you.
If you’re driving through a tunnel, there is no place to exit or pull over. Perhaps you arrive to your destination a little earlier. But you arrive tired and you need to pee and you need to eat and settle in and you have a headache from not eating and you’re preoccupied with all of that stuff.
You pushed through to keep driving so you can get there faster. Because faster is better, right?
So, yes, you’re there, but you’re not there. Y’re not present.
In the tunnel, you never get the chance to rest or eat. You never have the opportunity to learn if there is a faster route, or a more scenic route. Once you’re in the tunnel, you’re in the tunnel until you get to your destination.
Choosing Our Path
When we speak about “choosing our path” in life, we are typically speaking about the destination. What will you do? What will you be?
This is the time of year when our culture pushes us to set goals. We program our end-point into the GPS and seek to find the route that will get us there the fastest. We seek to drive through the tunnel, in order to block out all potential distractions. We eschew rest stops and detours because they will delay our arrival or perhaps — horror of horrors — lead us to discover a new destination that we hadn’t previously considered. We invest in coaches and programs to guide us along a proven path, a well-worn road that will give us certainty that we will get to our desired destination.
We live in fear that a wrong turn will lead us to a detour and away from our desired end-point. The moment we think we made a “wrong turn”; we look to place blame: on ourselves, for our inability to follow instructions, or on others, for not providing better directions look at this now.
Too often, we get to our destination only to find that we are disappointed. This isn’t what we expected it to look like. We want more.
We were promised happiness, and we arrive at our destination hungry and tired and with a headache and wondering, “is this all there is?”
What if we took “choosing your path” at face value? What if choosing our path was not about the destination, but about how we navigated through life?
On our road trip, we can take the tunnels or the highway.
In the tunnel, we can focus only on the destination.
Of course, there are times when blocking out distractions can be a good thing, especially in this era when so many things fight for our attention. If we followed every detour, we might never end up anywhere. Nothing is healthy when taken to an extreme.
But the feelings we are seeking — the feelings of success, achievement, happiness, fulfillment — are not found at the destination. The magic moments of life happen in the in-between moments. At the rest stops. When we take the scenic route even though it’s longer. When we pull over on the side of the road simply to take in the view.
We can explore these options only if we take the open road.
Yes, the open road also comes with uncertainty and distractions. Maybe we get off at the wrong exit, with the run-down rest stop that has lousy food and dirty bathrooms. We may make some wrong turns. It happens. But a wrong turn doesn’t mean we failed.
Consider what happens when we take an errant turn. Does the GPS show us a big “FAIL” sign while a horn blares around us?
Of course not.
The GPS pauses, and then gently announces that it is “recalculating route.”
Every detour offers us an opportunity to recalculate our route. To assess where we are going and why. To find a new way to get to where we want to go. That new way may be more scenic, or have better restaurants, and it may even be faster.
Consider taking the highway. Stop along the way to eat, to rest, or just to take in the scenery. Explore new paths. Perhaps you will find that the magic moments of life are found at the rest stops and along the detours.