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 and 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 reservations, hotel reservations, and doing analysis on renting an RV versus driving and tent camping. There are so many fun details to think about when you are in control of 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, population, and drew pictures of the state flags. It was safe to say 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 more 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 more in need to those we serve. In a matter of hours our focus and excitement of loading up and pulling out for 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 for me the safety of 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 fair 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 as we had just dodged a bullet and we were now focused on how do we proceed with this 14 day road trip. As we watched the TV the 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, traffic to determine how this changed our itinerary. For one we had to leave a day late 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 #2. This is where it got interesting. We left out of Florida early on that Sunday morning. We stopped in Georgia to fuel up. From that point on for over 300 miles every exit along I95 had no power which equals no gas. As we crossed into South Carolina we were detoured off I95 onto back roads because the interstate was flooded. At this point the gas light on the car was on indicating we had about 30 miles left in the tank. We spotted a gas station with cars waiting for gas only to be told that they had just ran out of gas. We had to drive 22 miles through rural America to the next town and there the 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.” I think we drove those 22 miles with white knuckles, little talking, and trying to apply all the “tips on how to conserve fuel” we could remember. So I do not 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 from where the storm had impacted the coast.

It turns out that over the next 13 days we had to make a lot of changes to our plans. We had to be flexible and just go with some things that were out of our control. Nothing went exactly like I planned when I started to map out this journey 10 months prior. We had some really 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? In reflecting my personal road trip has the same characteristics, challenges, successes and failures that my professional journey has. In my current role I set out a vision of where we are going as department just about six months ago. This road trip is a bit longer then my 14 days family holiday. This journey will be 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. Being about six months in, the excitement continues but the anxiety is there, the overwhelming feeling not unlike 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, one person is asking “Are we there yet,” and another person is 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. We had to improvise. One night we cooked over an open fire, which turned out I would say on a scale of 1-10 about a 4. The next night we opted to go a restaurant. This was not how I had seen this going. When these things happen to us, we, as well as our staff, go through a range of emotions. We can see it as a chance to ditch the plan, complain, feel sorry for ourselves or we can learn from it and adjust but keep moving 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 do think Drake is 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.

 

@chrismwalden

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