The Unexpected Gift

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We had left San Antonio about 90 minutes ago, my daughter and I. Home from school for a brief visit, she agreed to come with me to the Alamo City (a quick 3 hour drive from our home in Houston) so that I could interview an executive for an upcoming article in Forbes.

We were making great time – traffic was light, and after an hour and a half of driving, we pulled over to fill up the gas tank. That was when I had a bitter realization:

We were on the wrong freeway.

I happened to notice a road sign – “35” – and that wasn’t our number. In fact, a quick check on my phone let me know that we were actually less than an hour from the Mexican border.

We had been heading south, not east.

Uh oh.

How could this have happened, you may wonder. (I know I sure did!)

We had turned off the GPS just as we were heading onto the [wrong] freeway out of San Antone. Then, we got lost in thought.  Me: fiddling with the camera to look at the pictures from the factory in San Antonio.  My daughter: watching the road and making sure we were making great time (and we were! or, were we?)

Once we realized our mistake, we had to turn around and head back to San Antonio – 90 minutes away – and then begin the 3 hour trek east, towards Houston.

My daughter, who had been driving, blamed herself for the mistake. “Nope,” I said. “I’ve been sitting here the whole time. I’ve been looking at the same road signs, and I didn’t check the GPS. We are in this together.”

And my daughter, who is a bit of a perfectionist (which I think is just perfect – guess where she gets it from? 😉 got pretty depressed, pretty fast.

We had unknowingly entered the blame game, and we were both playing to win.

In the midst of beating ourselves up for our mistake, and realizing that we had just built-in an extra 3 hours into our [round] trip, we started talking.

There wasn’t much else to do. Just drive. And talk.

And somewhere among the mesquite trees and the long gray ribbon of road, we found ourselves traveling to a place that was beyond the roadside, beyond GPS, and beyond the silly feelings of frustration that had colored our initial turn-around.

We shared an unexpected gift of conversation. Not forced, not pushed, but a simple ebb and flow that made the return trip fly by – leaving our self-inflicted anger somewhere in a ditch, near Uvalde (I think).

Without that crazy surprise detour, I never would have heard about the goofy inside jokes she shares with her classmates. Never would have learned about her expectations for the coming school year, and her concerns about her job.

The initial mistake delivered an opportunity – namely, an opportunity to share stories and conversation, without interruption, for the rest of our trip.

So many times when life seems to get off track, I find myself moving quickly to punish myself – putting myself squarely in the middle of a heated internal blamestorming session. We have so many tools for positioning – GPS is one of them, but there are many other “apps for that”, depending on what type of positioning you are talking about (positioning your brand, your leadership initiatives, your relationships, your reputation on social media, your finances, your spirituality…you follow my meaning here?)

But what if getting off track isn’t a mistake?

What if a detour is actually …an unexpected gift?

I don’t know why we didn’t check our phones, or try GPS, until we did it. Typically I’m the guy who’s always watching, and my daughter is pretty alert as well! But sometimes, despite our best efforts, we all get a little bit off track.

And this time, instead of screaming, “How did this happen? How could this possibly happen to us?!”, we found another question – a question that was much more powerful. Here it is:

“So what?”

Quote from HamletDon’t let a little mistake make you miss the opportunity that might be right in front of you.

Course-correct, but don’t lose the moment because you’re trapped thinking about the previous one. No matter where you’re headed, you’ve got to start with “now” – it’s this moment, right here, right now. Anything else is just your imagination working against you, trying to hit you upside the head with history.

If we really have anything other than this moment, I don’t know what it is.

When my daughter and I shifted our thinking (from blamestorming, back to conversation) the whole situation changed.

And it wasn’t deliberate – we didn’t start chanting a mantra, or belting out an affirmation: “We WILL enjoy this conversation! We WILL enjoy this conversation!” – we simply allowed the situation to be OK, and we did what we had to do: we made the best of it.

I’ve never thought of a detour as a good thing – but if that’s what you’ve got in front of you, here’s my advice:

Enjoy the ride. Because that detour might just be an unexpected gift.


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