The 10,000 Mile Journey for the Directionally Impaired

I’m directionally impaired. While driving, certainly, but my inability to find my way is much more far-reaching than navigation by automobile. Spin me around in a circle in my own home and I’d have trouble getting around. North could be in any direction at any given time, regardless of where the mountains are.

Trying to find my way in upstate New York with my Dad. Fall 2014

Trying to find my way in upstate New York with my Dad. Fall 2014

I remember when Bekah first discovered this embarrassing inability. We had just started dating and were meeting at a restaurant in Louisville, Colorado. (If you haven’t been, go. It’s a place made of first date opportunities). I was cutting it close on timing, and hurried to park my car on some adjacent street a few blocks away.

As the night was closing, endorphins at an all-time high, I began to come to the realization that I completely forgot where I parked. This was the stage in the relationship where you sheepishly reveal quirky traits about yourself so it was perfect timing to confess my directional failure.

“No problem,” she said, “Hop in and we’ll find it.”

I’m sure she assumed the search would be limited to just a few minutes, after all, Louisville is a quaint, little town. Well, quaint, little Louisville somehow became a labyrinth with me in the passenger seat. Up this street, back that street, turn here, u-turn there. “I think we’ve already been on this street.” What should have been seconds, was elongated to at least 20 minutes of searching.

Eventually, FINALLY, we found my little car. It was slightly embarrassing, but also a convenient way to get more time with her, so it sort of evened out. I also came away fully realizing, for the first time, that I was bad with directions.

I’m sure you’ve heard the famous Chinese proverb, “A journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step.” It’s a comforting reminder that in order to get where you’re going, you have to start somewhere.

While this is true, too often we begin that journey without thinking where we’re even going. If your first step takes you in the wrong direction, you may find yourself 10,000 miles off course. As someone who recognizes my own inability to find my way, this clarification especially rings true.

Getting lost in Louisville with your girlfriend is probably limited so some combination of cuteness and embarrassment, but that isn't the case for all scenarios. All it takes is a low-iphone battery in a new city and a lack of basic navigation skills to instill shear panic. Yet for some reason, we treat the direction we’re headed in life so lightly.

We’ve all felt times in our lives that we were headed in the wrong direction, but for some reason we keep on going. Why? Is it because the journey is slow-moving? Are we lazy? Do we not care?

I’d argue that we do care. I think we desperately care. But I also think changing direction requires much more of us than going in the same direction. Issac Newton said it best. “An object in motion stays in motion.” The only way to alter the direction of an object in motion is for it to collide with something else. Something needs to impede and alter that momentum for it to change course.

So based on this analogy, we’ve got two options. We can push ourselves in the right direction to begin with or we can wait to collide with something that will change our direction in the future. And let’s be honest. Collisions suck. Sometimes they’re necessary, sometimes we need a wakeup call, but it’s never fun.

Here’s the good news. My physics analogy isn’t perfect because your life is not an inanimate object traveling along a frictionless plane. You’re a human being who can make the decision to change. Each step forward is the chance to change direction. Each step forward is the chance to change your life.

You don’t need to wait for a wrecking ball to knock you onto the right course, but you also don’t need to become so paralyzed with fear that you never take any steps at all. Take the first step of the 10,000 mile journey, but don’t become blind to the direction you’re headed. Every so often, stop, think, and ask yourself some questions.

“Am I going where I want to go?"
“Am I leveraging my talents and abilities in the best way possible?”
“Am I taking full advantage of the life that’s been given to me?”

  • Do not obsess over these questions.
  • Do not worry yourself to death.
  • Do be thoughtful about your life’s journey.
  • Do consider these question from time to time.

And if you’re not going where you want to go, all it likely takes it turning yourself a few degrees into the right direction.