Henry Ford once said – “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”
That was one of my concluding lessons learned during my hitchhiking trip across the US. I learned that lesson while in the middle of Newark, New Jersey at about 3 AM. How I learned that was probably borne out of fear, but none-the-less, I was fortunate enough to receive that gift of insight when I needed to get beyond my conundrum and decide what to do next.
I swallowed some pride that morning and chose to buy a train ticket to get out of the city and continue north to my next stop, Cape Cod. For a moment I stopped thinking about my goal of hitching all the way and focused on the here and now and boarded the train. I was happy to sleep all the way to Boston. It was much-needed rest, and I enjoyed every moment except when the conductor woke me up to see my ticket in Providence, Rhode Island. That annoyed me because I had placed the ticket in plain sight in the ticket holder on the back of the seat in front of me. But to be fair, it likely took all of a minute or 2 to fall asleep again.
I hiked from the Hyannis, Massachusetts train station to my friend’s house a mile away, re-energized after the train ride. It was a wonderful reunion and a huge relief for me to have arrived at a place I loved. In the coming days, I enjoyed some great steamers and whole-belly clams, runs on the beach, visits with friends and my beloved brother and his wife. I felt as if a heavy load had been lifted off my shoulders. And of course, it had… both physically (the old-school, overstuffed Marine backpack) and mentally (the uncertainty I felt during most of my trip). The Cape was a home for me for nearly a year when I was 18-19 and it felt very much like home during this trip. There is a saying that “You can never go back”, but I assure you, I was happy to be there!
The following weekend, previously unknown to me, my brother planned to drive to Vermont. He was happy to have my companionship and I was thrilled to not have to hitchhike on another highway. It was a lovely sun-drenched autumn Saturday and a delightful ride through the early New England fall foliage. After living in the dry desert of New Mexico and West Texas, it was a treat to soak in the beauty of the landscape that was home for me for most of my life.
I was excited to arrive and spend time with friends and family in Vermont. I gave a full account of my trip to many people over the course of the next few weeks. Sometimes I wonder if “the fish I caught” grew with each story iteration. Not a chance! 😊 It was fun sharing and it also helped me to think about the experience itself. I often reminisce and await further insight from the trip.
There are 3 final lessons I would like to leave with you:
1. The trip from the New Mexico-Texas border to Newark began to send me in a new life direction. It was then that I realized I should always step into places that were uncomfortable for me. I write and teach about being out of our comfort zone often. It helps us grow!
2. I mentioned earlier the uncertainty that I felt for most of the trip. I realize now that there many facets and great lessons to be learned about fear, risk-taking, failure, and courage during uncertain times. During the present uncertain times, there is so much to learn from and so many ways to grow our leadership skills. A question for you – do you make it a regular practice to reflect on your experiences (both positive and negative)? Use those lessons learned to help you make decisions going forward.
Leadership came later for me, even though I aspired at a much younger age to be a leader. Furthermore, I had no idea what it really meant or how to go about it. In time leadership became the focus of my vocation. What I learned eventually merged my professional and personal lives and continues to transform me to this day. I thank God for that!
3. I will leave you on your own “highway” with this:
“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” – Admiral James Stockdale, Medal of Honor Recipient
Admiral Stockdale’s quote screams 2 things to me: “perseverance” and “failing forward”. The journey will be filled with surprises (some positive and some negative) and difficulties. It will also be filled with missteps and utter failures. Count on it! Learn from it! Stay with it! There will always be a Cape Cod, or some New England fall foliage to provide respite, comfort, and satisfaction along the way.