Do You Know where You’re Going?

route-66I have been given a lot of gifts in this lifetime: for example, I am intelligent, I’m a great reader, I can string a few words together to communicate ideas, I am a kind and loving mother, I have a healthy and strong body – and I am grateful for every single one of these gifts. But there is one area that I am definitely lacking in both natural ability and learned competence: I am navigationally challenged. I have no better sense of north and south than a rock. Maybe less. In fact, as I’ve learned over the years, if I think I’m headed north, I’m most definitely in a southbound lane. My disorientation disorder is so severe I cannot even comprehend a road map.

My condition has been a source of amusement and frustration for me. I can’t even remember how many times, when my kids were little, that I’d enthusiastically strap them into their car seats to keep them safe as we headed off into unknown territories. I’m not referring to cross-Canada excursions here – oh no! Instead, I mean a visit to a friend’s new home or to try out a recently opened restaurant. Invariably, I’d get myself turned around.

Because I didn’t want to worry my daughter, who could always sense when I was getting upset, I’d make a game of our route detours and deviations. She would ask, “Are we lost?” I would answer: “No, Sweetie. We’re on an adventure!” She was smart enough to know that adventure equalled lost, but if she thought I wasn’t worried, she would relax. (I was often worried. I suppose I could add “actor” to my list of gifts – or maybe this skill is just lumped under “loving mother.”) I started to build extra time into travel plans for my little adventures. If a drive should take me 45 minutes, I’d plan for an hour. (I still use this strategy today.)

About a decade ago, I decided to drive from my southern Ontario home to Florence, Kentucky to visit my sister. I didn’t have one of those new-fangled GPS systems, and, as I mentioned, a roadmap would have been useless to me. But I had discovered MapQuest™, a delightful program that not only maps a route in pictures but – and this is the important part – it also provides written directions. The directions told me exit numbers and miles to next marker. I printed off the instructions and grabbed a pen – to record the sum of the ‘miles to next marker’ and my odometer number on the direction sheet en route. My strategy worked. I got to Kentucky and home without any unplanned adventures.

I learned a lot from the experience. First of all, I learned that I could function in this world with my disorder: I just have to make a solid plan. A plan gives me confidence that I’m headed towards my destination, especially if I build in a few contingencies. Of course, having a plan doesn’t mean I won’t have to follow some unplanned detours, it simply means that I’ll know when the detour has ended and I can carry on toward my objective. Not having a plan leads to certain disaster.

I’ve also learned that understanding my strengths is important. But when I have a goal to reach, it’s equally as important to understand and address my weaknesses. Maybe I can’t find snow in a snowstorm, but others have an inborn sense of direction and are willing to help. All I have to do is ask.

And I have become one of the best “directions askers” you have ever met. (Another gift.) Not only will I ask a gas station attendant for directions (left and right not north and south), I also ask how many kilometres (or miles if I’m across the border). I ask for landmarks (there’s a Tim’s on the corner where I should turn) and I also ask how I’ll know if I’ve gone too far. (Even MapQuest™ does this now!) This particular tip saves me much “adventure time” as reduce the distance I travel in the wrong direction.

My point? Know your destination, and make a plan to reach it. Anticipate and accept that detours will happen; just get back to the plan when the detour ends. Acknowledge your weaknesses and ask for help. Other people are good at the stuff you aren’t. The trip will be a lot smoother.

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By Lisa Petty

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