You are cruising along the highway, anxiously waiting to reach your destination. You filled the tank up with gas, plotted the most efficient course, and hit the road right on schedule. You found the fast lane and are starting to think that you might even arrive early. As your mind wanders to all of the excitement that you will find once you fulfill this mission, you see the brake lights starting to illuminate the road ahead. What starts as a slowing parade of cars, quickly transforms into a parking lot. You are stopped and there is nothing that you can do about it. At first, you sit calmly and you optimistically expect this dam of traffic to burst quickly and get you back onto your fast track. But as the time passes, you start doing the math and realize that you are going to arrive later than you planned. With this realization, you begin to get antsy and periodically steer your car into the median in an effort to see the source of this unplanned pause. If you can understand the root cause, maybe somehow you can figure out a way to get past it. When that doesn’t work, you put your car in park and step out to get a better look. You walk several paces forward in a hope to make some progress, but all you see is a seemingly infinite row of cars in the same predicament. You go back to your own car, and impatiently fidget with your phone in an attempt to acquire any piece of information that might help you get back on track.
At this point, you are later than you ever imagined, and when the cars start to move ever so slowly forward, it almost makes you more nervous than when you were sitting still. You begin to worry that you won’t have enough gas to complete this journey and start wondering whether or not to look for an exit. Do you stay the course in the hope that the traffic jam will break, and that, even late, you can complete your original plan? Or do you find an exit, refuel, and maybe even look for a detour?
As you sit there with your anxiety rising and your patience fading, you start to weigh the options. An obvious approach is to just wait it out, knowing logically that whatever is causing this delay will eventually pass. This plan is somewhat reassuring in that at least the path is mapped out and known… but the inability to control the pace is a maddening prospect. If you choose this option, one thing you need to promise yourself is that you don’t just sit there festering in your unhappiness. If you are going to white knuckle your steering wheel, honk your horn, or be overcome with road rage, then you really need to get off the road. If, however, you can accept that this is out of your control and that you just need to make the most out of an unfortunate situation, then turn up the radio, open the sunroof, and enjoy the unexpected pause to relax and belt out a song.
Another option is to pull off the highway for a few minutes, to refuel, and to take a breath of fresh air. A short sabbatical from the road might cost you a little time in the short-term, but the mental break can be an investment in your longer-term physical and psychological health. This approach lets you stick to the course you charted with the assurance that you will eventually reach your destination… you would just need to decide if the momentary reward of refreshment is worth a small delay on an already irreparably slowed trip.
Yet another possibility is to pull of the road and find a scenic route to your destination. The thought of a totally new route has the allure of an exciting new adventure, but also the anxiety of potentially getting lost along the way. While it might not be a direct path, maybe you will see some new sights, meet some interesting people, or stumble across the world’s largest ball of twine. Clearly your path will have several new twists and turns that you didn’t anticipate, but maybe the excitement of the journey will be even more fulfilling than arriving at your destination.
Finally, your last potential option is to chart a course to a new destination. Maybe as you sit in traffic you realize that you were less excited about your original goal than you thought, and what you really like is just driving fast. Or maybe you’ve been concentrating on the road so intently, that you never had the time to really think through whether or not this was the best ultimate destination for you. Is there someplace better out there that you’d rather go, and have you just been too busy driving to realize it? Has your tunnel vision on this one specific plan caused you to irrationally pursue it, so that you are too worried about fulfilling your goal when you should be determining if it was the right goal in the first place? Are you truly moving toward something new, or are you merely fleeing something old?
The traffic jam is real and there is nothing you can do to fix it. As you look at all of the drivers around you, you see countless people struggling with the same choices that you are facing. As you hear the horns start to blare and see the frustration mount nearby, you reaffirm to yourself that letting yourself get overrun with anger is an unacceptable scenario. And whether you choose to wait it out, to refuel, to take the scenic route, or to pick a new destination, you must fully embrace the choice and go forward with purpose. And do your best to enjoy the journey.