It was a dumb mistake, followed by several more – none of which should have happened, and all of which were my own fault. By the time all was said and done, I was frustrated, embarrassed, angry (at myself), swearing (at myself), crying, and driving home in defeat after more than an hour on the road. And it wasn’t even 7:30 in the morning.

I had been on my way to a once-a-month meeting that starts at 6:30 a.m. I left my house early because I was scheduled to evaluate a speech, and I wanted to touch base with the speaker before the meeting about any special requests or requirements she may have had. The location of the meeting was changed recently, but I had been there several times and didn’t need to look up the directions before I left. That was my first mistake.

My second mistake was in thinking that the location of the meeting was near 169 and Excelsior Boulevard, when it was actually 100 and Excelsior Boulevard. As I got off 169 at Excelsior, I realized immediately that something was wrong. And it went downhill from there.

My first thought was that perhaps I had inadvertently gotten off at the wrong exit. But no, I was on Excelsior Boulevard. Then I considered that I may have gotten on the right road, but going in the wrong direction. That wasn’t it either, but from that point on it seemed that every turn I made took me further away from where I thought I was going. The most frustrating part of this – other than the fact that there were people expecting me and counting on me at the meeting – was that I spent the next hour lost in an area that I’m actually fairly familiar with, taking a grand tour of every street I never knew existed.

In case you’re wondering, my phone does not have GPS, maps, an internet connection, or anything else that would have helped me find my way. I stopped to ask for directions several times, but because I was still thinking that the meeting place I was looking for was near 169, no one I talked to was familiar with it.

Finally, I just went home – mentally beating myself up every inch of the way. I felt guilty, irresponsible, and stupid, and I traveled down a long list of “What if’s.” What if this had been an interview? What if it had been a workshop or conference – a major speaking engagement with hundreds of participants or audience members waiting for me to show up? What if the speaker I was supposed to evaluate felt snubbed and angry and never spoke to me again? And what if I just destroyed my reputation and credibility all in one fell swoop?

By the time I got home, I was able to step back and assess the situation a little more rationally. And once I called and apologized to the president and speaker, I was able to put things in perspective. The world didn’t end because I wasn’t at the meeting, and I didn’t do any irreparable damage to myself or anyone else. In fact, everyone was more concerned than upset, since it’s not like me to miss a meeting or appointment.

So now it’s time for the “lessons learned” part of the experience. Our greatest learning comes from our biggest mistakes, and even though this wasn’t earth-shattering in scope, it gave me plenty to work with. Among the things I learned is that I should always check the directions, even if I think I know where I’m going. I learned that being in familiar territory doesn’t mean I’ll never get lost. I learned that not only is it okay to ask for help when I need it, but timing can make a big difference, too.

And from now on, as I head out on any new journey – whether it’s close to home or far away – I’ll make sure I always start out with a full tank of gas.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on July 19, 2012.
© Betty Liedtke, 2012

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