I was driving to meet a client on the outskirts of a rural Seattle suburb. It was unfamiliar territory to me, but I had a pretty good sense of where I needed to go. So when I saw heavy traffic a quarter mile or so up ahead at the intersection where I was planning on turning left, I made a swift and perfectly (I thought) logical decision: I’ll turn left right here, a quarter mile before my intersection, and then I’ll make a right on the next available side street. It’s sure to connect with the road I need to be on.
This is where a map might have come in handy.
I didn’t do all that well in sophomore year geometry, but I do remember an interesting factoid about parallel lines: they never intersect…especially when they stop being parallel and gradually begin to diverge. Had I glanced at the map, I would have seen two important things. First, I would have noted with interest that the road I was on and the road I wanted did indeed run parallel for a mile or so before they began to separate imperceptibly but inexorably. Second, I would have perceived that, contrary to all the basic precepts of urban planning, there was no right-angle street connecting these two — at least, not in the state of Washington. Maybe had I driven to Idaho I could have found a road, but that seemed a tad extreme.
Nevertheless, in the confidence that can only come from fundamental ignorance of the facts, I pressed on. And on. And on. It was a sunny day and the scenery was lovely, but I was not, in fact, enjoying the drive — I was getting later and later for my appointment, and more and more frustrated at the growing awareness of the fatal flaw in my plan. I was making great time, but I was on the wrong road.
When that happens, we have two choices: change course now or change course later. I chose to keep driving for maybe 20 minutes before I realized the obvious, even though I suspected the truth about two minutes after I made that fateful, premature left turn. I finally did turn back, re-tracing my steps, and sheepishly arrived 40 minutes late for my appointment. And I learned a couple of things:
- Get good advice. I could have asked the client for specific directions, or (gasp) stopped to ask someone else if I was on the right road, but in my ego-driven state I refused to do so.
- Use all available resources. Common sense may be sensible, but it’s not always common! I could have used a map (or, today, MapQuest) but again I thought I had the route all figured out. The fact that my route was wrong made little difference, until it was too late.
- Make corrections early. Enough said about this one. I needed to slay my ego and change course MUCH sooner than I eventually did.
Are you making good time? Super! But are you on the wrong road? Maybe it’s time for a thorough reevaluation…before you end up clear over in Idaho! If you need to turn around — and we all need to turn around from time to time — sooner is always better than later.