My family and I recently took a 14-day road trip up the East Coast and then back down through the Blue Ridge Parkway. The anticipation of this trip had been building for months. The idea was sparked last Christmas; shortly after the New Year rolled around, I started planning the entire holiday. We wanted this to be a camping/hotel/educational/recreational/reminiscing family bonding time. Over those next 10 months I began laying out the stops, making camp site and hotel reservations, and doing analysis on renting an RV versus driving and tent camping. There are so many fun details to think about: where you want to go, when you want to go, and how long you want to be at each location. We involved our children by having family talks over the United States maps. We put red thumbtacks next to our journey and tied a string around each stop to show our routes. My daughters did research on each state we were visiting or driving through. They learned the state capital, state bird, and population, and drew pictures of the state flags.
For 10 months, we were all excited about this trip. It came up at the dinner table and at night before bed. I blocked my calendar at work, which sparked conversation like, “Are you really taking 2 weeks off?” We were so hyper-focused on this two weeks of our lives that we would have to remind ourselves to stay in the present and not miss our entire summer because our minds were on our October road trip.
Well the time finally came, but two days before we were supposed to leave, our community — and most of Florida’s East Coast — began to brace for Hurricane Matthew, which at that time was a Category 4 storm. My family and I live beachside, and because of the type of work I do, we do not close for business; in fact, we ready ourselves to be there for those we serve. In a matter of hours, our excitement for loading up and heading out on our road trip turned to anxiety, storm preparation, evacuation procedures, and uncertainty. All we could focus on in this crucial time was our family’s safety, and the safety of me and my staff.
It is with a grateful heart that I am able to report that the storm took a jog to our east in the last few hours, and that slight movement changed the fate of our community. Others north of us did not fare as well and are still recovering. As the storm passed and we were allowed back over the causeway to our home on the beach, anxiety and worry turned to relief and a flurry of checking on neighbors, cleaning up damage, and preparing to alter the first part of our road trip.
We all had mixed emotions. We had just dodged a bullet and we were now focused on how to proceed with this 14-day road trip. As we watched the TV reports of storm damage in North Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina, we prayed for those in the storm’s path and we analyzed the maps, weather, and traffic to determine how this changed our itinerary.
For one, we had to leave a day later due to the storm, which means we missed our first night camping. We would have missed it anyway because that city was hit hard by the storm, and everyone there was forced to evacuate. That forced us to drive straight to what was planned as stop number 2. This is where it got interesting. We left Florida early that Sunday morning, and stopped in Georgia to fuel up. From that point on, for over 300 miles every exit along I-95 had no power, which equals no gas. As we crossed into South Carolina, we were detoured off I-95 onto back roads because the interstate was flooded. At this point, the gas light on the car indicated we had about 30 miles left in the tank. We spotted a gas station, but it had just run out of gas. We had to drive 22 miles through rural America to the next town, where reports suggested we would find gas. I will have to admit this was a bit unnerving knowing that I had my wife, two children, and a packed vehicle that could potentially run out of gas in the proverbial “middle of nowhere.” We drove those 22 miles with white knuckles and little talking while trying to apply all the “tips on how to conserve fuel” we could remember.
So I don’t keep you in suspense, we made it, and were able to fuel up. What should have taken us 10 hours to get to our first stop took closer to 15 hours. We were exhausted, but grateful to have made it. We saw so much devastation along the way — damage to crops and homes in rural parts of the state that were four hours inland.
Over the next 14 days, we had to make a lot of changes to our plans. We had to be flexible and go with things that were out of our control. Nothing went exactly as I had planned when I started to map out this journey 10 months prior. We had some funny experiences and some nail bitters, but in the end we came home super happy about our time, with great memories to share.
What is my point in sharing all this with you? Upon reflection, I learned that my personal road trip has the same characteristics, challenges, successes and failures of my professional journey. In my current role, I set out a vision six months ago of where we are going as department. This road trip is a bit longer than the 14-day family holiday. This journey will take place over about 26 months. I mapped out our milestones, goals, objectives, and success criteria. As a team, we defined what it would take to achieve each of these milestones. We communicated with our staff, asked for input, tweaked it a bit, and then we suited up and commenced on the journey. Six months in, the excitement continues but the anxiety is there — the overwhelming feeling not unlike the one I had on those back roads running out of gas comes into play when our eyes get too far out ahead. Some days it seems like we are singing to our favorite old tune and zooming down the highway, all in sync. Other days it feels like we have been in this car too long, with one person asking, “Are we there yet,” and another person saying, “I have to go to the restroom.”
Change is hard. Challenges to our plans make us question change. On our road trip I forgot the most important part for our Coleman Stove, rendering it unusable. That meant we could not cook by the campfire, which is a highlight of camping for me. Instead, we improvised. One night we cooked over an open fire, which turned out to be a four on a scale of 1 to 10. The next night, we opted to go a restaurant. This wasn’t how I saw it going. When these things happen, we, as well as our staff, go through a range of emotions. We can see it as a chance to ditch the plan, complain, and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can learn from it and adjust, while keeping along the path. The tendency can be to question everything instead of just that one issue. I am not one to quote celebrities, but I think Drake was onto something when he said, “Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” Whether it be in our professional or personal lives, we have to remain vigilant about our visions, but flexible about how to get there.