The Scenic Route

“Success is a journey, not a destination.” –Arthur Ashe

“A straight line may the shortest distance between two points, but it by no means the most interesting.” –The Third Doctor in “The Time Warrior” (Doctor Who; Season 11, Episode 1)

I have a horrible sense of direction.

It doesn’t take much for me to get lost and lose any sense of where I am, whether I am performing a combination in a dance class facing the opposite wall where I originally learned it, waking up after a long nap with no concept of what direction I’m facing when I am lying in bed, or I am driving from any Point A to any Point B.

My sense of direction, or lack thereof, has been a lifelong quirk of mine.  After many years of fighting it, I finally decided to try to embrace it.  I just had to accept the fact that dancing while facing a direction I’m not used to will confuse me to no end and squelch what little grace I have, my brain will always feel a little disoriented for a minute or two when I wake up after a deep sleep, and I will always make at least one wrong turn while driving to a place I’m not familiar with.

Embracing and accepting these aspects of my personality has been a battle.  The lost feeling I sometimes have when I wake up isn’t a big deal.  (That happens to many people.)  However, I wish I could pick up a dance combination facing any direction on the first try, and I would love to drive somewhere without taking wrong turns or getting lost.  Even if I have driven to Point B multiple times before, “side trips” and “detours” are part of the travel package, whether I like them or not.  To save my sanity, I jokingly tell people that I like to take “the scenic route.”

Of my notorious quirks, my lack of navigation skills is what drives (no pun intended) me the craziest.  I have lost count of the many times I have taken a wrong turn, continued straight on instead of turning, unknowingly cruised right by my destination, doubled back to try to reach said destination (only to sometimes drive by it again), missed a highway exit, or stayed on the highway too long.  (I once drove I-270 in its entirety while traveling from Missouri to Illinois.  For those of you who don’t know, 270 is a somewhat loop-like highway that is 50.59 miles long and runs throughout the St. Louis area.)  It stresses me to the max, especially if I have to arrive somewhere by a certain time.  Doubling the estimated travel times that Google and Mapquest provide has become a necessity over the years.

Fortunately for me, my constant curiosity about the world around me eventually outweighs the frustration I feel after my 15th wrong turn.  Once I stop pounding the steering wheel and calm down, I can take in my surroundings during the drive.  I have passed through many small towns that, to outsiders, mean nothing, but mean everything to people who call them home.  Hole-in-the-wall diners, mom-and-pop stores, towering mansions, city parks, old buildings, historic landmarks, trademark industrial sites, local geography, quaint homes, and school banners unique to the town are just a few of the interesting findings I come upon during my many “side trips.”  Sometimes, I decide that I’d like to go back and eat at that diner or visit that historic landmark.  I’ve also seen trashed yards, crumbling houses, barred windows, shattered glass, rusting parked cars, littered streets, graffiti-ed buildings, shuttered businesses, and wandering people who maybe didn’t have a place to call home.  (I have a knack for getting lost in dangerous neighborhoods; my mom once said I was lucky to get out of a few of those places alive.)  Call me crazy, but if it was safer, I would go back and visit those neighborhoods, too; especially since my mom grew up in one of them and I’ve always been curious about it.   Both of these settings and every setting in between have shown me something that I never saw or knew about before.  I was exposed firsthand to the various ways that people live.

Even if I don’t get lost enough to drive through a different town or neighborhood that was not on my itinerary, many times I have learned how some roads connect to each other or lead me to a place that I needed to find later on.  I have also been able to find my way back to familiar territory by taking a road that was part of one of my previous “detours.”  In retrospect, getting lost and making mistakes along the way often helped me find my way in a later situation.  And on those rare occasions when I do make it to a place on time without making any wrong turns, the feeling of victory sends me on an express trip to Cloud Nine.

People have told me over the years that I should use a GPS when I drive.  I can certainly understand why they think one would help me, but I always refused for three reasons.  One, a GPS doesn’t know which neighborhoods are safe and which ones are dangerous.  I could still just as easily drive somewhere that should be avoided at all costs.  Two, I don’t want to be too dependent on technology.  Many people nowadays are so plugged into their phones, tablets, and other high-tech gadgets that they wouldn’t know how to function if, for some reason, they couldn’t use them.  I don’t want to be one of those people.  I want to be able to put my problem solving skills to use and think outside the box, rather than just have the information constantly spoon-fed to me.  Three, I’m a stubborn bonehead who doesn’t like to ask for help.

That being said, I recently realized that since I might be doing a lot of driving in unfamiliar areas this summer, a GPS might come in handy for at least some of it.  Yesterday, for the very first time, I used a GPS to drive from a town I’d only visited once to another town about 30 minutes away.  Yesterday seemed like a good time to break in my Garmin GPS that I’d kept in the box for about four years.  True to its claim, it guided me to my destination with no side trips or detours.  I was surprised, however, at how little I truly needed it.  As I left Point A to drive to Point B, I was actually confident that I would make it to my destination with no problem, and I almost always knew what roads to take before Garmin told me.  Using a GPS wasn’t life-changing like I thought it would be.

If you’ve seen the movie The Matrix, you may recall a scene toward the end of the film when Morpheus is held captive on top of a high building, and he needs to be rescued by helicopter.  Trinity does not know how to pilot one, but she instantly learns how once that particular information is downloaded into her brain in merely a few seconds’ time.  (You can watch that video clip here:  After seeing that part of the movie, I began to wish that such a method of learning existed for us people who never had the chance to take the red pill.  I could skip the frustration stage of acquiring new and difficult skills and instantly know how to put my newly found knowledge to use.  My productivity level for various tasks could skyrocket.  I could save copious amounts of time.  How could instantly downloading anything and everything I would want or need to know be a bad thing?

I found the answer to that question yesterday after turning off my GPS.  How many interesting places would I have missed seeing if I hadn’t accidentally taken those little side trips?  How many of those accidental discoveries of where certain roads lead me, that helped me later on, would I have missed if I didn’t take those unplanned detours?  It’s exactly like what I said to other people before: I don’t want information constantly spoon-fed to me.  It’s satisfying to figure things out on my own.

The same can be applied for dance, too.  It might take me all of class time–and in many cases, longer than that–to grasp the new steps I’m being taught, but once I get them, the feeling of victory after conquering those challenges is sweet.

The learning process for any knowledge or skills gained is more valuable than I realize.  I hate that I didn’t fully understand that while I was in school.  However, I still have numerous opportunities to learn about the world around me and put that knowledge to use in any endeavor I pursue, whether it’s interviewing for jobs, dancing, driving, or anything else.

As for my GPS, I have decided to only use it as a last resort in urgent situations.  Sometimes, it’s good to take the scenic route.


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