Where are you?

I had a cross country coach in high school who would calm our pre-race jitters with two refrains. The first, which he rattled off in his North Jersey/Italian-American accent, was, “Get psyched, baby!” The second, which I find myself repeating 15 years later, was, “If you don’t know where you’re going, don’t take the lead!”

How often has that message been lost on me in the 30 years I’ve been on this planet? I’ve missed that point in one way or another daily, that admonition of direction and purpose. 

I haven’t missed the point so much because I didn’t know where I was going. I know that. I’m a goal-oriented person, and as a result, destinations are not in short supply. The heart of my problem is that I don’t know where I’m going because I don’t know where I am.

The most valuable skill I learned in Boy Scouts was orienteering, or using a map and compass for land navigation. The heart of successful land navigation is first, knowing where you are. Without knowing where you are, where you are going is irrelevant. Without knowing where you are, you could be going in a damn circle, which, as I’m learning, is more often the case for me than not.

The destinations I’ve navigated toward, or the goals I’ve pursued, how often have they been influenced by a poor understanding of where I was at? Was I running from something that the reptilian part of my brain perceived as a threat, that was really just somebody’s bad day? Was I avoiding difficult life experiences because I perceived them as too much to handle, that perception being a direct result of clouded judgment?

I write this because it’s taken me 11,024 days to realize that I haven’t paid enough attention to my location, to where I’m at -- physically, emotionally, intellectually. If I’m stressed, I need to be stressed. If I’m afraid, then I need to be afraid. If I’m happy, then I need to be happy. I need to ride it out, experience whatever has come my way, observe it, and then use it to set a course. Maybe you need to do the same.

If you don’t know where you’re going, don’t take the lead. And if you don’t know where you are, don’t go.