Detour Ahead: How to Navigate Life's Unexpected Twists

I was born completely devoid of any sense of direction. To compensate I learned that before I venture off on any trip that takes me outside a 5-mile radius of my house, I need to consult my old pal Google Maps and the angelic voice of reason that is my car’s navigation system.

As good as these trusted advisors are, they can’t predict the unexpected real-time situations that occasionally lead to a certain sign that strikes fear into the hearts of all of those who, like me, have no sense of direction. It’s shockingly orange and screams in all caps a terrifying message—DETOUR!

This happens not just when driving but in life as well. We set our sights on a goal. We consult with friends and respected advisors, invest in books, and sometimes take classes, all so that we are completely prepared as we set out on the most direct route toward whatever it is that we have our hearts fixed on achieving. And then, without so much as an orange sign to warn us, life hits us with a detour.

When driving, as long as I have gas, I know I’ll eventually make it to my destination. In life there are no such guarantees. There’s no magic navigation lady to guide us; we have to figure things out by ourselves, usually by the seat of our pants.

Believe me, for a recovering perfectionist and sometimes control-freak like me, “by the seat of my pants” is not my preferred mode of transportation. But I’ve had to travel this way often enough that I’ve actually come to see that there is an upside to life’s side-trips.

Here are three lessons I’ve learned from the detours of my own life. I’m not quite as eloquent as the navigation lady, but hopefully my advice will have a similarly calming effect.

1. Shift gears. When faced with an unexpected detour, tell yourself you aren’t afraid, you’re excited! Think of the change in plans as a surprise adventure. You can’t predict what’s going to happen next, so you have to believe that the odds are just as much in favor of it being something wonderful.

2. Go joy riding. In other words, don’t look at the destination itself as the only reward. There are gifts all along the path to it—especially when path is an unexpected detour. Maybe you’ll witness something truly amazing or discover something new and wonderful about yourself because of that journey. Maybe you’ll be in a position to help someone you never would have met if it weren’t for that departure.

3. No stopping anytime. Detour means “detour," not “road ends here.” If you’re determined to get somewhere, then an unexpected bypass shouldn’t stop you. It may make the journey more challenging, but it also might make the journey more rewarding. It might even take you to a much better destination than the one you’d originally planned for. The only way to find out is to keep on going.  So the next time you’re faced with one of life’s unexpected detours, remember: Don’t hit the brakes—just make like your navigation lady and recalculate.

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