Getting where you want to go in life can be complicated. We’re all making this up as we go along. Other people give us advice. Many act as though they know what they’re doing. But even if you’re sure you know what you want — which can change along the way — how do you know which route will get you there?
So you choose a place where you want to go and then you come up with a plan to get there. Years ago, I heard a pastor talk about this in terms of navigating the bus system in an unfamiliar city. I was reminded of this today when Seth Godin used the same metaphor.
Let’s say you’ve chosen a route and gotten onto a bus. You’ve paid a price to be there. You’ve left the place where you were. You’ve settled in for a comfortable ride. And as the bus starts moving forward, you slowly realize this bus isn’t taking you where you wanted to go. What do you do about it?
Most of us stay on that bus. After all, we chose to get on. We don’t want to admit we were wrong. We already have an investment in wherever this bus is going. So we keep going in the wrong direction — because we forget that nothing is going to change until we get off this bus.
Inertia is a powerful thing. Once we start moving in a direction, it’s hard to change that. When I spent years as a political consultant, I spent at least half of my time in the business — maybe more — knowing I was doing the wrong thing. But I didn’t make a change because I thought the price was too high.
Changing my direction would mean starting over with something else. It would mean throwing away the years I’d already spent in politics. It would mean giving up the status and income I had achieved. It would mean struggling with a transition to something new. So I kept letting inertia pull me forward until something inside me “went on strike” and refused to continue with the charade.
I almost married a woman about 10 years ago who I knew was wrong for me. I never actually loved her. (In fact, there was someone else who I wanted to pursue instead.) But I’d gotten myself into this relationship and I didn’t know how to get out. I didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t want to admit that I’d somehow let this relationship turn to an engagement that I didn’t want. I didn’t want to throw away the investment I already had in the relationship.
In the end, I hurt this woman far worse by delaying the end than I would have if I’d just ended things the first time I tried to break up with her. I hurt her worse and I put myself into a difficult position in other ways. By wasting my time with the wrong woman, I didn’t allow myself to pursue someone who could have been the right woman.
I’ve gotten on the wrong bus in life multiple times. I’ve done it with jobs, relationships, career choices and even ideas. In every case, I knew quickly that I was on the wrong bus, but I tried to stay with the wrong choice — even though it was taking me further from where I needed to be — to avoid the costs of getting off the bus and finding a different bus to the right place.
There are times we stay on the wrong bus simply because we don’t know how to switch buses, but there are other times that we stay even though we see another bus in the distance — one which might take us where we need to go — but we refuse to pay the price of admitting our error and then making the change.
I’ve had to change buses several times in the last few years. I’ve had to eat some crow. I’ve had to claw my way back from serious mistakes. It hasn’t been easy. I would be closer to where I want to be right now if I hadn’t taken so long to make the changes I needed to make — but when I look at the path I was on 10 years ago, I realize how close I came to letting that bus take me to places which would have made me seriously and permanently unhappy.
Are you on the wrong bus? Have the courage to get off. Take a different bus. Take a train instead. Or find another way. You have a lot of options.
Just remember that nothing can possible change unless you have the courage to get off the bus you’re on — and pay the price for getting yourself where you should have gone instead.
The best time to have gotten on the right bus might have been years ago, but the second best time is today.