Some years ago while I was still working, I travelled to Lansing, Michigan from my home here in Canton, Ohio in order to do a training class at one of our parent company’s other locations. It was a two-day training session, and the second day wrapped up earlier than I had expected, ending around noon. The class went well, although it was intense and I was mentally exhausted. It was Friday, and I had the weekend to look forward to. As I was packing up to leave, I felt a very pleasant sense of freedom as I realized that I had an unexpected half day added to my weekend. The delicious luxury of it made me want to do something different and maybe a little daring.
I decided to meander my way home—I was in no rush, and I felt like a bit of solitary exploration. So, I set my GPS to avoid all highways and asked her—yes, my GPS is a “her” and I have names her ‘Margaret’—to take me home. What a liberating feeling it was! I knew I would get to my destination eventually, but I had no idea what my route would be. That decision I put entirely in the hands (or microchips, or whatever) of Margaret.
On the way, I had many small adventures that I wouldn’t have had on the highway. I browsed shops and galleries in small towns. I drove through countryside dotted with small farms and ripe fields. I stopped for an ice cream cone at a tiny café situated at a rural intersection, and lingered to talk to the woman who owned the shop. She was recently widowed, and showed me a picture of her husband as she told me about their life together. We both wept a little and laughed a little before I headed out on my way again. She gave me a hug and thanked me for listening. I thanked her for sharing her story with me. A little further on, I came to a river and a canal boat that was offering rides along with a history lesson. It was a perfect fall day for a boat ride, and I listened to the stories the boatmen told as we sailed down river and sang canal boat songs together. When I passed through Bowling Green, Ohio, I stopped to explore the university campus. I spoke to some students about their school, their studies, and the classes they were most passionate about. I think there’s something about talking to a stranger that frees people to speak more openly in ways they may not with people they know.
That trip home took almost nine hours, but I remember it as one of those little gems in my life that I will always cherish.
You see, I knew where I was headed. I had a destination in mind, but I was willing to let serendipity determine the route that would get me there. And that, as Robert Frost said in his iconic poem, The Road Not Taken, has made all the difference.
There is a metaphor here in the story of my GPS-inspired adventure that I think deserves some consideration by us all. The message is that it is every bit as important to enjoy the trip as it is to get to where you are going. You must have a direction in mind, but must also pay heed to the unwritten directive to make the most of all the stops along the way.
For example, if your goal is to attain your college degree, like those students I spoke with at Bowling Green University, and you have mapped out the classes and time-line necessary to expedite that achievement, then your efforts will be more rewarding if you seek out all the opportunities for enjoying the learning along the way. You may even find a new direction calling you, and that’s okay. Sometimes we head down one road only so we can reach an intersection where we are driven to make a turn.
Another example is the narrowly-focused person who has set a goal of reaching a certain level of financial security in order to provide for a comfortable retirement, and then in single-minded pursuit of the goal, denies himself any pleasures in the here and now. By the time he reaches his goal, and is able to retire, he well may have forgotten how to enjoy himself. All his hard work became an exercise just for the sake of hard work, and didn’t achieve any meaningful result.
One of my musical heroes, Harry Chapin, wrote in a song the following line: “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there that’s good.” This theme is my mantra for not only road trips, but for any goal I have set in my life. It’s a reminder that the trip is as important as the arrival, and, after all, perhaps the true goal is not just the destination, but the journey itself.
So, I exhort you, dear readers, to have a destination in mind—certainly that’s very important. But while you are planning your route, remain open to moments of serendipity. It’s the unplanned and unexpected in our lives that often enrich the journey beyond your imagining, and that make for the best memories.
Citation: "Not all those who wander are lost", is a line from the poem All that is gold does not glitter, written by J. R. R. Tolkien for The Lord of the Rings.