Washington, DC. It’s vibrant, it’s electric, it’s filled with people and history and a cacaphony of noise and traffic and … after a few days, I’m ready to leave it all behind for a place where I can actually hear my own thoughts without getting hoarse from yelling, “What?”
It’s a great city, but it’s not my city.
It was the traffic that caused my fellow coach Micki and me to wait patiently until 9 a.m. to eat breakfast at the Hyatt, check out of our rooms, pile into the Jeep, plug in the navigation unit, and drive off. “Little Micki,” as she fondly called her portable GPS, spritely began telling us just when to turn and where.
On our way toward the George Washington Parkway, Little Micki pipes up and tells us to turn right, but we’re busy decompressing the previous day’s focus group activities. That voice doesn’t really penetrate and we find ourselves heading back toward the Jefferson monument. Oops.
She’s cool under pressure, and it isn’t long before we hear, “Recalculating.” Little Micki is on the job, busily finding an alternate route.
Looking out the window, I notice a row of neatly parked boats. A second glance confirms they’re trucks. How can I confuse that? We top the hill and, at Little Micki’s urging, take the ramp on the right. The first ramp. Of course, Little Micki is clearly talking about the second ramp. Almost immediately, that unmistakable voice calls out, “recalculating.”
I look off toward the left. “Isn’t that Arlington Cemetery?”
“I think so,” Micki says. “You want to go?”
“No thanks. I’m good,” I reply, as she navigates to a right turn at the intersection as Little Micki requests. Except she wants us to go through the light to the second intersection. And we hear, “recalculating.”
“Look! There are those boats again.” My word! Did I say boats? We laugh, and Micki dutifully makes the turn onto the first ramp. What? We did this once. “Recalculating.”
“Oh, look! Arlington Cemetery!” We round the corner, stop at the light, laugh, and immediately turn right at the first intersection. You’ve got to be kidding me. “Recalculating.”
Hey. Boat-trucks! For the third time we navigate … the first ramp. For heaven’s sake, it’s as though we’re a trolley on a trolley track. “Recalculating.”
“Say, isn’t that Arlington Cemetery?”
Laughing through our frustration, I grab Little Micki and force myself to read the specifics. Finally we’re able to break free of our invisible trolley track and leave the cemetery and those boats – er, trucks – behind.
Little Micki is happier now. “Drive 8.5 miles and then keep left on the George Washington Parkway.” That we can do. Maybe.
We laughed a lot about our directionally challenged journey out of the city, but today I can’t help but marvel at the lesson it brought me. Even with Little Micki the GPS expert, we traveled in circles – not once, not twice, but three times. The same streets. The same exits. The same cemetery.
It’s like life, don’t you think? One of the reasons I coach is to help others discover their values and become authentic. What’s really important? What values can you not live without? What values pop up in the happiest of moments, and what values emerge from situations you cannot abide? Sometimes we have to dig pretty deeply to find them – like anything, it’s easy to lose sight of our values as we go about the business of life. When that happens, one day we wake up to discover we can’t find our rudder and we have no idea where it went.
Our escape from the city? A great example of the rudderless life. Even though our rudder – Little Micki the GPS expert – was quietly feeding us information (and let me be clear that she was always right), we were busy with living (and talking) and just didn’t stop to really listen. She was clear on the street names, but we only heard the “direction” and let our unreliable eyes guide us. As a result, we went around – and around and around. We created our own familiar and comfortable rut, and we knew the twists and turns, the bumps and the scenery. After all, we’d traveled it before, and with every circuit we cut a deeper swath. We just weren’t getting anywhere.
That’s what happens when we lose a rudder – the one that forms from our values and the decisions that flow from them. When we know what’s important to us and we use that knowledge for our decisions, we make headway.
Whenever we must make a decision, checking in with our values helps us see when a choice is leading us forward or leading us astray. If it’s astray, then we’re probably trying to steer outside our values. That’s when we get lost, travel in circles, and eventually lose our way.
Is your GPS expert up-to-date? Do you know what you value and what’s important to you? For me, it’s trust, integrity, humor, and fairness, among others. If I find myself considering an activity that has no humor and fun in its soul, it’s not for me. If a friendship becomes marked by lies or deceit, it’s time to correct my course.
I like having a rudder. It frees me to live authentically.