After our kids finished school for the summer, we decided to take a last minute road trip to California. It was late in the afternoon, and we needed to leave right away if we didn’t want to be driving into the wee hours of the morning.
I wasn’t packed and the house was a mess. Previously, when we’ve taken road trips, I have meticulously prepared, spending an hour or two deciding what I would bring, and adding a few contingencies to allow for unpredictable weather or in case I didn’t like my outfit choices once I arrived. Naturally almost every trip I’ve been on involved bringing way too many clothes, which ended up taking almost as much time to return to the closet when I came back as it did to put them in the suitcase in the first place.
In the past, I have also taken way too much time preparing for the drive itself — organizing bags of red licorice, dried fruit, nuts and chips; packing a cooler with water and sodas and sliced fruit; figuring out what music we might want to listen to, what movies the kids could watch, what devices would keep them occupied so they didn’t ask every five minutes if we were there yet.
I would think about all the things we’d need in the hotel to make our stay more enjoyable too – extra pillows, blankets, peanut butter and bread in case someone needed a snack between meals, and ground coffee for the coffee maker that is high on my list of favorite features in the kitchenette style suites we always stay at. Oh, and of course coffee filters to brew it in.
I like to tidy up before we leave too, so that we come back to a nice, refreshingly clean house (which often takes hours in itself).
But this trip required spur of the moment action. It didn’t allow for any of my careful planning and deliberation over every little thing I could think of (which in the past has ended up pushing back our planned departure time by hours, much to my husband’s dismay.)
And this time, strangely I was up for it. It was only a two day trip – how hard could it be? I went into the closet with a little gym bag and picked a couple of t-shirts and a pair of shorts. I grabbed something to sleep in and scooped my makeup and facial care products together. It was the smallest bag I’ve ever packed. Done!
I walked into the pantry with a plastic grocery bag and randomly threw things in it, not even sure exactly what landed, grabbed my coffee and some filters (because, really that’s an essential). And we jumped in the car.
There were dishes in the sink and all over the counter, along with the contents of the backpacks of each of my children — who had dumped out everything they had accumulated over the entire school year as soon as soon as they came home. The clothes we had washed the night before were in a pile on the rocking chair, waiting to be sorted and folded. And each kid’s room looked like a bomb went off in it (as it often does).
“What about this mess?” I said to my husband as we headed toward the door, herding our three children toward the car. “It’ll still be here when we come home,” he shot back. I swallowed my resistance and slipped into the passenger seat as he turned the key in the ignition.
And before we knew it, we were backing out of the driveway and headed for the road. It was so unlike me to be ready for anything on the spur of the moment, but it felt strangely exhilarating. I was free and unencumbered. I had left my unnecessary baggage behind me. And I was finally traveling light.
I wasn’t outfitted in the way I had tried so hard to be in the past, with stuff I thought would allow me to rise up to any occasion. But my mind was ready. I felt nimble and quick, like I could think on my feet about what to do with anything that came my way.
And as we continued our six hour drive from Phoenix to San Diego, I mused over how often I had over thought and unnecessarily complicated so many other things in my life. How many times did I plan and prepare what I thought was a foolproof strategy and then wait until conditions seemed perfect to execute it, almost missing my window of opportunity altogether? How much procrastinating have I done by convincing myself that I needed to prepare my workspace and get completely organized before I could concentrate and make headway on a task? And how often did I find that the time I allocated to work on something ended up dwindling to nothing by the time I had finished preparing myself to start?
I suddenly recalled exercises I did in school that involved reading over a few paragraphs with way too much information and crossing out the sentences and words that were redundant. And how beautifully those paragraphs read without all that unnecessary stuff.
Perhaps I am headed for a simplification of my very self, a lightening, and a back to basics way of living my life — one where I am unencumbered by my fear, my worries, my futile attempts to try to control every variable with a plan that takes way to long to figure out and even longer to execute (and often ends up missing the mark anyway).
So I applied this new way of approaching things to writing this article. I sat myself down and noticed that familiar urge to get a snack, pour myself a glass of water, make sure I had replied to any pressing emails, go around in circles about what I want to write about. Not this time, I decided. Instead, I opened up a word document and started typing a stream of consciousness. Random thoughts that made no sense whatsoever. I wrote about how I had no idea what to write about, how ridiculous it was to think I could sit down and just jump in. And how I was kind of scared that once I finally figured it out, I wouldn’t do it justice.
I noticed my tendency to want to go back and read what I had already written, and perfect and edit it before I had even finished. And I made myself just keep on writing. Just get it done. Just jump in the car. Just grab what you need and figure the rest out along the way.
Eventually the article you are now reading spilled onto the page. Pretty messy at first. But I got it done. I got out of my own freaking way, and I got it done. And it felt good. A whole new way of looking at things. A whole new way of being. Me, pared down, minus unnecessary fears, protests, layers of protection, feet dragging. Me. Right here, right now.
It felt a little strange – like writing with the wrong hand, or going outside with my clothes on backwards. I’m aware of the fear that if I don’t spend hours preparing for something, I might forget an important detail or face a situation I’m not equipped for. But I have a feeling that the more I do this, the more I’ll learn to trust something in myself that knows exactly what I need for any given task – without having to think about it all that much. And that would be worth more than anything my most careful, cautious planning and preparation has gotten me.
Maybe all I really need is my coffee. (And perhaps one day, I’ll learn to function without that too.)
Stay tuned for the launch of a new video series, On the Road to Real: The Adventures of Pistachio (coming in July via OnTheRoadtoReal.com), designed to help each of us move beyond the old habits and patterns that keep us from the road that leads to true happiness and lasting fulfillment.