Last month, as I started writing this, I was anticipating a trip on April 30th. It would be my very first since the pandemic arrived. 13 months without a trip.
I had a destination and was excited to finally take a real road trip: getting in the car and driving to Charleston, South Carolina. Hotel and dinner reservations were made, and I’d planned which sites I’d see. Google Maps told me it would take 4.5 hours to get there, but with my super-secure, almost fool-proof radar detector, I figured I’d arrive in no more than 3.75 hours.
I’d been looking forward to traveling again. You plan to meet someone, you pick a place, and you go. I couldn’t wait to get there!
Then I recalled a wonderful leadership lesson shared from a Signature panelist several years ago. Felicia Adkins, President of Enterprise Sales for UPS, described a story about her early career. She was rapidly being promoted, about every two years. In one particular role, she got to the two-year time frame and kept asking her manager, “When will I get promoted? I’m ready.”
After several of these conversations, her manager said, “Felicia, stop thinking about the next destination, and gather all that you can during the journey.”
I stopped to consider this concept in relation to my upcoming trip. In one sense, Felicia’s manager was right: we don’t have to arrive somewhere to finally enjoy the trip. There is a lot to learn, do, and absorb along the way.
Finding Abundance in Between Time
It made me curious about my determination to get to Charleston as fast as I possibly could. What about all of that “between time?” The four hours of drive time, plus packing my suitcase, packing the car, stopping for gas, etc.
As I considered “between time,” it was as if I startled myself into a concept of more living. Why had I not thought about this kind of time before? For someone who likes to lead life intentionally, all of that between time amounted to a lot of “unintended” experience.
I have more than three million miles on Delta Airlines alone. When someone learns that, they usually say, “Wow, that’s amazing you have that many miles.” My response is typically, “It’s not much of a badge of honor when you realize how much time you waste traveling.”
But in thinking about between time, I pulled out the calculator and tried to estimate how much time I spent accruing those Delta miles. I played with the law of averages — calculated time en route to airports, packing time, time waiting for airplanes, time boarding, time on the airplane, time waiting for luggage, time waiting for a cab, and check-in time at the hotel — and determined the time I’d spent before I actually “arrived” at my destination. The final sum amounted to at least four years of my life (and likely more) spent in between time.
Paying Attention to the Journey
Unfortunately, I now have few specific memories of those many, many minutes, unless it was a war story of travel gone wrong.
Where did that time go? What did I experience? Why hadn’t I made the most of the between time — the opportunity to just be on the move and watch the scenery — instead of always focusing on the destination? As Felicia’s manager had advised, why hadn’t I paid attention to what I was picking up along the way?
It’s something we can all consider. Rather than focusing on where we’re headed, why not contemplate what is challenging about the journey? What are we learning? Who are we meeting and building relationships with as we go?
Those ponderings reminded me of something else: when I was growing up, my dad would often gather the seven of us kids and mom for a spur of the moment Sunday drive in the country.
Piled into the wood panel station wagon, we drove along and pointed out the sights. We noticed when Mr. Ross had planted the corn, or a new motorcycle was sitting in the front of Mr. Mason’s farmhouse.
We did not have a destination. We went simply for the ride, the conversation, the discovery. The only purpose was to live in the moment and enjoy the ride.
When we were done driving and headed back to the house, Dad would sometimes stop at the Dairy Queen and surprise us with seven Dilly Bars — those wonderful round, vanilla ice cream bars, covered in a hard milk chocolate shell. As we sat licking those sticks on the tailgate of the station wagon in the parking lot, we enjoyed the arriving neighbors and activity around us, too. The Dairy Queen was not our destination, but it was an important (and delicious) part of the experience.
After this reflection, I now think of travel hours very differently. So I decided not to race to Charleston. I imagined myself stopping along the way and experiencing an “unintended” moment or two, whenever the mood struck. Because I know those unintended stops just may become intended memories. And now all of my future miles on my favorite airline will no longer be a drudge to get to the destination, but a valuable, wonderful, memorable part of my journey.
As of this writing, I don’t know if Charleston has a Dairy Queen — but if it does, maybe I’ll buy a Dilly Bar to mark the new way I will travel in the future, making the most of “between time.”