By Rory Scher, LMFT
Driving down interstate 90, thinking about getting to my destination at a decent hour, my excitement for the night’s plans suddenly came to a stop. The orange signs on either side of the expressway signaled impending detours that would eat up lot of time I didn’t want to lose. The road was closed moving forward. Large black arrows pointed southbound toward an unknown route. Feelings of anxiety instantly set in, and so did anger. Why now? How much time am I going to waste taking this other route? Why wasn’t I notified sooner? Is the detour even clearly marked or will I get lost?
Thoughts of just turning around and going home quickly crossed my mind, along with the idea of trying to find a faster detour on my own. I considered perhaps there might be a better and more efficient way than following those orange signs. Or, I wondered, I could follow them? I quickly mulled over each option. Turning around felt like giving up and then I wouldn’t get to attend my event. Trying to be my own personal GPS navigator, I realized, would be my way of trying to avoid giving up control. So I turned on my blinker and gave in. I will take the detour. I instantly felt the loss of control and became worried that this choice would mean more traffic, more time wasted, and more stress and fatigue for me. I had already decided how this night was going to go, and this way was not it.
Twenty minutes later, still sitting in the driver’s seat but now parked at my planned destination, I had a realization. I made it. I got here. I arrived where I needed to, in relatively good time, and everything was okay. Detour or not, I ended up exactly where I needed and wanted to be originally. And then it hit me, life itself is often just like this. We have a set plan, a way we think the world should work, be it health, jobs, relationships, parenting, or whatever. We stick to a timeline and a series of actions with expected outcomes. We work hard, try to be a good person, and conclude that life will thus be easy, happy, and full of success. It’s all supposed to pay off, right? Isn’t that what we were all told in some form or fashion? But then the unexpected happens. Unfortunately, in life there are detours that impact our arrival at our “destination.”
We plan, we invest, and behave certain ways because we want an outcome. We have an image in our mind of what needs to happen so we can enjoy life, feel good about ourselves, be happy…so we can start living. Along the way, without realizing it, we sometimes become rigid about what we need to do. Throw in a detour and it’s a recipe for anxiety, fear, and anger. “This isn’t how it was supposed to go,” we say to ourselves and anyone who will listen.
I realized a two things the day of my detour. One, there are many routes to our destination, many ways of getting there. And two, sometimes the detour provides opportunities that may make us reevaluate the destination itself. Perhaps, just perhaps, detours can be good. Is it time wasted? Or is it experience gained? Is it a bad choice, or necessary growth? We can pessimistically view unexpected obstacles and changes to our plans as meaning the world is against us, or we can choose to view them as opportunities.
Of course we all set plans to get an idea of what the future might hold, but there are no guarantees our hard work will return with the feeling, promotion, or other payoff we are expecting. We can either accept life’s changing course or we can protest and proclaim how unfair it all is. But perhaps what we’re really looking for lies within the detour. It’s risky, it’s uncertain, and there isn’t the same illusion of security that our planned route provides, but maybe it holds opportunities we otherwise would have missed, had the new road not been taken.