I recently took a very long road trip (across the country!), and it occurred to me that there were some good lessons that I learned from the trip, for both my career and my life. Hope they will be useful to you, too.
Make a Plan
When taking a long trip (like our careers), you want to look at a map and make a plan in advance. Yes, road trips to nowhere can be fun, but that’s for vacation, and not if you’re actually trying to arrive at a specific destination (and within a set amount of time).
So make a plan. Even if you change your mind later and decide to take a detour – or go to a different destination – you still knew you were making progress and could chart how far you advanced toward your goal.
There Are Lots of Ways to Get There
When looking at a map, you realize there are lots of ways to get to where you want to go, and you have opportunities at every “fork in the road” to go one way or the other.
On the one hand, you may want to stop at the tourist destinations, or get to know a particular town and the people in it. You may decide to try local food and expand the range of your taste buds.
You may take the northern route or the southern route, the interstate freeway, or the less traveled local highways. Any of these paths are valid, so long as you’ve made the choice and know why you want to do so.
For each of our careers, we have different outcomes we want to achieve, and the important thing is that it makes sense to you.
Choose your path, and then know that you will get to the destination you desire in the manner you’ve chosen.
With our careers, taking time to get to know a certain company, learn an industry, and get to know your co-workers is never a bad thing. Make sure you’re taking pleasure from all the pieces of your career.
You Don’t Need to SEE Very Far in Front of You
Although you’ve already looked at a map – the big picture – and made a plan, when you’re actually on the road, you don’t see (with any clear focus, at least) that far in front of you. While the actual miles I traveled on the trip were around 3,100, I could only see about 500 feet in front of me while driving on the road. That is a miniscule fraction of the overall total that I could see at any given time.
This, to me, is one of the biggest reminders for my career. While I absolutely want to have a plan, the day-to-day execution is actually right in front of me. If I know where I’m going, and have a strategy on how to get there, I just need to do the next thing. I don’t need to get overwhelmed with doing everything, or even think about the whole map too much.
Although I do want to have my route planned out, what I actually need to accomplish is only what I can see right in front of me.
Taking an Unintended Detour Can Add Hours – if not Days – to Your Trip
One day along the trip, I made a huge mistake. I thought I knew where we were going, and I headed off in one direction. However, after about five hours of driving, I looked back at the plan and realized that I had taken the wrong path!
I had driven one of the routes I had originally considered, but the route that I actually chose to take would have taken me about half the time to drive that day, to get to the same destination (if I had followed it). Ugh! What a lesson…
Even if you think you know where you’re going, make a habit of checking your plans and ensure you’re on the right path. If not, your career could get diverted, and you could take a much longer time to get some place simply because before leaving on a long leg of the journey, you didn’t make sure you knew where you were going.
You Have to Rest and Refuel Regularly
No matter how fast or far you want to go in your career, you must take time to rest and refuel. I tried to go too far once, and my car informed me I had zero miles left in my tank – luckily, we made it to the gas station just in time.
And resting, or just stretching one’s legs, is necessary to function at our best, both in the long and short term. So make sure to take vacations, enjoy your weekends and realize that even if you’re working very hard, you must rest and refuel at some point.
There is Joy in the Journey
Our careers – like road trips – are something we’re in for the long haul. So enjoy the journey, see the sights on the road, treasure the relationships you make and have some fun.
Be patient with yourself, and recognize you will occasionally make mistakes – we all do.
Every day, after all, is an adventure – with different scenery, people, pit stops, and food choices. Take time to savor the experience.
What similarities do you see between our careers and a road trip? I’d love to hear other ideas, and your thoughts…
Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website, PowerfulLatinas.com, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.