When I was in college, a friend and I took a road trip up to Spokane, Washington.
This was in the late 90s, before smart phones, before Google Maps, and before turn-by-turn directions were standard in every car. It was a route neither of us had driven before, but neither of us was worried about finding our way. (Although our parents might have been.)
We would head north from Rock Springs, Wyoming, on US 191. When we reached Interstate 90, we’d head west. When we arrived at a junction, we knew one direction would take us closer to Spokane and the other would take us farther away. We would make the turn that would take us closer to Spokane.
It was that simple. It got us to where we were going. It will get you where you’re going, too.
You have a destination you’re trying to reach, whether it’s getting to Spokane, losing 30 lbs, starting a business, or living a long, prosperous life. Whenever you have a decision to make, make the decision that will take you closer to your destination.
- Turn the car so that you follow the path. (Wouldn’t it be great if we had turn-by-turn directions guiding us through the day? “Sit down at the computer. Open Word. Start writing. In 500 words, take a break.”)
- Should you have the cheeseburger or the grilled salmon? Both are delicious. How have you been doing this week? Can you cheat a little and fit in the cheeseburger? Or do you need to do the healthy thing and go with the salmon to stay on track?
- You’d be able to influence the quality of your kids’ education if you joined the PTA, but you’d have less time to meet with coaching clients in the evenings. You might need to stay with your day job and put that side hustle on hold for another year or two.
- Should you take that dream vacation while you’re still young enough to enjoy it? Or should you put it off until you know you won’t deplete your nest egg? You might be too old to hike Machu Picchu by then.
Making the right decision isn’t always as cut-and-dried as turning left if you want to go to Spokane and right to go to Helena. Not only do we have to make detours and side-trips and get lost and have to backtrack, but sometimes we’re navigating at cross-purposes to ourselves. Getting closer to one destination takes us farther away from another one. Maybe that’s okay, maybe not. You can make all the stops if you want to. You can also decide that you’re not going to do some things because they’re not in the direction of your ultimate destination.
If you aren’t sure which choice to make, ask yourself which one will move you closer to the goal you’re trying to reach. Will one get you there more quickly? With less effort? Expense? If there’s no clear choice, it probably doesn’t matter.
It’s important to spend time getting clear on where you want to go. If you’re coming from the east coast, you can probably defer the decision between Coronado Beach and Puget Sound until around Utah—I–5 if you push it—but you’ll have to decide at some point. The sooner you decide, the more you can optimize your route.
Schedule time to get clear about your destination as early as you can. Define a clear win condition for your day as part of your daily planning. Describe the desired outcome of your goals as clearly as possible.
Looking farther out, create a vision for where you want to be in five years. Think about what you want to achieve in your lifetime, start a personal mission statement, and decide the roles which will let you focus your efforts in that direction.
If you get lost, don’t be afraid to stop and ask for directions. Chances are you know someone who has traveled those roads before you.