I have two routes to work. My preferred route is a winding country road cut into the base of a hill. It meanders through farmlands that abut the Snohomish River. When the temperatures drop below freezing or the river threatens to jump its banks, I am forced onto the freeway. The I-5 route is not faster or shorter, but it can feel that way as I hit the gas to merge into the stampede of caffeine-fueled travelers. Either way, I don’t need a map to get to work, or so I thought.
A few weeks ago, I had an early morning meeting at a school which I remembered only after I merged onto the freeway. I furiously searched my memory banks for the best way to get to the school. Immediately, I saw five routes in my head. Pressured by the asphalt ticking away in two foot long high-reflective strips, I furiously attempted to evaluate the options for the best path. In the end, I took the next exit and used the red light and Boeing first-shift traffic to buy me some processing time. As I sat there, it hit me. This is why I love Google Maps. The dots between traffic and the rest of my life were connecting when a mercifully short honk behind me signaled that the car in front of me was long gone. I realized I should navigate life like Google Maps.
1. Miss your exit? Reroute and get back on track.
Let’s say I am heading to a place I have never been in Seattle, but I miss the exit. Google Maps does not give up on me. It does not let me keep driving until I pass my destination. It does not wait until I am in Vancouver to tell me I have missed the mark. It gives me immediate feedback. It reroutes me as soon as I make an error to get me back on track. I know what my goal is on my personal, writing, or work journey. Sometimes, I miss a target. I don’t have to continue on the path I originally mapped. I can reroute anytime to get back on track.
2. Another miss? Don’t give up.
Sometimes the traffic on I-5 is unforgiving. If you don’t get over early enough, no one will let you in. Does Google Maps say, “I told you so? I am not helping you anymore if you don’t take my advice”? No, it sends me a new path. That is life right there. Sometimes I miss more than one target, especially if I am learning something new. I can set a new path to the same goal every day if I need to. The best mentors and teachers know this. They are the ones who show you that you are getting closer to the goal. They see that you need a new path, and they help you set it. They do not give up on you as you learn.
3. Not sure of the best route? You have options.
When I put in my destination, Google Maps always gives me several choices and it cautions me. Some choices will take longer. Some choices have slower or heavier traffic. It even gives me a recommendation for the best route. Personally, backroads are my favorite. I like those hidden gems that allow you to miss all the stoplights and traffic jams. If I get to see horses and cows, that’s a bonus. I always have options in life about how I’m going to get to my destination. They are equally valid choices. Some might take longer. Some might have better scenery, but the destination is the same. My personal preference on how I get there does not require justification.
4. Change your mind? No problem
If I don’t like the route I am on, I take a wrong turn on purpose which causes Google Maps to reroute me. Have you ever done that? You know you are going to make a mistake or fail but you do it anyway. That mistake does not change the destination. Cities do not magically disappear and neither do your goals. You can always pause or take a left turn and figure out a new way to get there. Though I joke that the voice on my phone is pushy, the truth is that there is no judgment at all. When I make a wrong turn, it simply says, “rerouting.” No scolding. No evaluation of my error. Simply rerouting. I need to say that to myself more often. At the very least, I need to say it in an objective way. Better yet, I should say it in a self-compassionate way.
5. Need gas or food? Let me find something close for you.
The longer the journey to my destination, the greater the chance that I will run out of fuel for me or my vehicle. It does not matter which path I’ve chosen if I don’t have the energy to keep moving. Google Maps lets me add a stop. It even helps me find a gas station or a restaurant near me. Near me, right at that moment! Where I am, not where I should be. I don’t have to get to the end of the journey in one sitting. I can pause and take care of myself. I don’t have to go out of my way to do it. I can select comfort when I need it, where I am.
6. Destination a world away? I will help you find a way.
I looked up Kastri, where my grandfather was born, the other day. I knew it would show up on the map, but I was surprised when it gave me the option of leaving Google Maps to find a flight to Greece. Where do I start? First, I can find any destination! It is undaunted by the fact that I cannot walk, drive, or ride a bus to get there. It knows when I need more help that it can give me. Is it sad or resentful that I am leaving to find a flight? Not a bit. In fact, it wants to help me find someone else who can ultimately get me there. Second, I can get anywhere in the world. It is undaunted by my lofty aspirations. It does not say, you can’t walk across an ocean. It finds a way. Third, it knows where I am. Even though my current location is thousands of miles from Greece, it does not limit me. It wants to figure out how to get there. It makes no attempt to discourage me from setting such a big goal. It does not try to lower my expectations. Instead of Athens, Greece, I was thinking maybe you should set your sites on Athens, Georgia. It gives me more support rather than asking me to lower my goal to match the support that would be easier to give.
7. Know how to get there? I’ll just be quiet then.
Sometimes I have a vague idea of where I am going. I want the safety net of a map, but I don’t need to be told how to get there every tenth of a mile. I mute the voice. I can always turn it back on. If I don’t need the help, I can turn it off until I do. When I turn it back on, it never says to me I thought you said you didn’t want my help. It just resumes supporting me like nothing ever happened.
8. Goal unclear? Let me help you focus.
I was trying to get home a few weeks ago and I couldn’t remember how to get to the highway. I was in one of those mega-neighborhoods whose architect was a devotee of the labyrinth. I put in my home address. With every letter I typed, I was given a series of options to choose from. The more information I put in, the shorter the list. Eventually, I just had my address and a list of possible cities. I chose my city and was off. It did not wait for me to put my whole address in correctly to start helping me narrow down the options. It adjusted the responses based on my additional information. Have you ever had a goal in mind that is not perfectly clear? For me, I appreciate being able to talk through my goal with a trusted mentor who can help me to focus it. It keeps me from wasting time heading out in one direction only to find a roadblock or, worse, arriving at exactly the destination my goal intended only to find out it is not where I wanted to be.
9. Things change? I know a detour.
I used to buy a map every time I stopped for gas in a new town to plan back country bike rides. While I loved the tactile experience of tracing the route, inevitably I would find myself at a dead end when a ten-year-old map led me to a one-year-old road closure. I would have to backtrack and find a new way. Now I rarely have to make a U-turn. Digital maps are updated more often than the paper ones are reprinted. Detours become parts of the journey instead of a derailment of the plan. Isn’t that true about life? Life has detours. When they feel like a roadblock followed by arduous backtracking, they are hard to take. When we accept them as part of the journey, it is a more peaceful trip.
10. Prefer to walk? Drive? Cycle? Whatever you want is ok with me.
I remember putting in my daughter’s address once. Atop the path on the map was the pronouncement “1 d 6 hr.” I had forgotten to change it back from cycling to driving. Sidenote, I don’t cycle that fast, but it felt great to think I could go 344 miles in 1.25 days. There are many methods to get where you are going. I love that I am not limited by means, and that I can gage the effort of each method. If you know me, I don’t always do things the easy way. I wish I had a tool like this for the rest of my life. I might still choose to ride a bike for 30 hours over driving for five, but it would be my choice. I prefer to do things myself. I could buy wine at the store. I would rather buy grapes and spend a year turning them into wine. Life is all about choices and not just what you are going to do but how you are going to do it.
Life is a journey. At times, I need a four lane straight shot to my goal. Most of the time, I like the scenic route. Either way, it’s great to have a navigator (human or virtual) who understands my needs and goals, is responsive to the shifting landscape, and helps me gain clarity about where I am going and how I can get there. I am grateful for the technology that helps me arrive at my desired location. I am blessed to have mentors in my life who help me navigate more than just roads.
Who is your navigator?