5 things about life you can learn from your GPS

GPSOn my way back from Lowe’s I thought I’d try out my new TomTom GPS device. I entered the address and tapped the button to find a route. The map which appeared on the screen looked right so I set off. Turn by turn it told me the way, not that I didn’t know it already.

Everything went well until I turned down the street to my house. The device told me my house was straight ahead. “No kidding,” I thought. I reached my driveway preparing to turn in. But the device had other ideas. “Keep going,” it said. On a lark, and because I knew there are no cliffs or piers to drive off of, no lakes or rivers to drive into, no blind alleys to get stuck in, I followed on. It took me farther up the street and around the corner to a house with the wrong number. To this day, even though I have set and reset the device, it cannot find my house.

TomTom and Garmin are two of the better known GPS brands. Most cars these days either have them built into the vehicle or their owners have a portable unit (like I do) or an app in their smart phone. We’ve learned to rely on them…too much it seems. The stories of serious error as a result of blind reliance on the device (check out 8 such stories here).

Now, this post is NOT about GPS systems even though I started by referring to one. No, it’s about finding direction and destination on a far more critical level – life. Some of us simply drive by whim, taking each day as it comes with little thought to destination.

But most have at least some idea of where we want to go in life, and set out to live accordingly. We have imprinted upon us a set of values from childhood, an idea of what we’d like to do and where, and a set of beliefs about life, how to treat others, and by what values to live.

Then the inevitable happens. Like the well-meaning but flawed GPS, we end up at one time or another at the wrong place. The map we’ve so carefully followed has failed us. Where we thought we would go and what we thought would happen and what we thought we would be just doesn’t happen.

We are, with some solace, not alone even though we may feel like we are.

The great poet Dante wrote:

“Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, For the straight foreward pathway had been lost.”

Some call it a paradigm shift when a set of perspectives about life, how and what we believe suddenly undergoes stark revision. Like when you realize that that oh so reliable GPS is not so reliable.

Here are 5 things to remember:

  1. You are still responsible for your own life. No one, and I mean no one, should follow another’s system for guidance or living without serious analysis and evaluation. Check things out for yourself. Look carefully at the path you are on and constantly recalculate and reorient your bearings.
  2. GPS maps work best if you constantly and diligently validate them. Sets of beliefs can and do change. Our perspective, our opinions, our values undergo enlightenment and alteration.
  3. GPS maps do go out of date. It’s happened to me more than once and I don’t mean literally (although that has happened too). I mean the direction I thought was correct, the purpose I thought was all-consuming turned out not to be. Events happen, good and bad, that alter our outlook on life, sometimes greatly, other times less so. It is normal and to be expected that what was so important at 20 is not so at 45. You’ve heard your GPS “recalculating?” Well, you should also.
  4. GPS maps are only a representation of what someone thinks the terrain and the road system looks like. The map, the system for understanding and interpreting things around us is not absolute. It is not reality, only a representation of reality. The only real reality is, well, the one you’re living in. To ignore or refute it is to prefer illusion and fantasy, an indicator of insanity. Sometimes they just get it wrong. There is no nobility in willingly remaining faithful to an erroneous interpretation of the terrain.
  5. GPS maps are supposed to tell you where you need to go to get where you want to go. But they don’t always do so. Sometimes they are just wrong. But it doesn’t mean they were always wrong. There very well might have been a time when they were right. We’ve all believed things fervently only to change our minds later. No one is advocating wishy washiness, that too uncommitted approach that anchors to nothing. I am, however, advocating the flexibility to adapt and modify. I may need glasses now  (you might need them too) but we see things a lot more clearly than we did at 18.

Things change, you should too. There is no crime in that. I remember visiting a church where I had spoken many years before. When I finished my message, a person who had been there back then told me, “You’ve changed. You’re not the same person you were.” Well, I hope not.

And I hope you aren’t either. If the great Dante found himself seeking a new path forward at midpoint in life, you can too. Many don’t. They simply refuse to make the adjustments and live life as though circumstances have not changed. It seems sad to content oneself with the nostalgia of what was when there is so much that not yet is.

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