Can You Give Me Directions to…?

Here’s a tip: If you see me walking down the street, and you are lost, don’t ask me for directions because that will make two of us. I seriously couldn’t direct you out of a paper bag if all but one side were sealed. In fact, I would probably point you in the direction you came from and ask if you’ve tried “that way” yet.

Honestly, I think it’s something about the spatial reasoning of it all. I know people who are good at Geometry who can sort of visualize the shapes in their head, but I can hardly pick a square from a rectangle, let alone tell you where to go when there’s a fork in the road.

And as irony would have it, time and time again, I find myself walking around my complex at work and being stopped by people that ask me for directions to offices that I either don’t know where they are or I know exactly where they are and I can’t explain how to get there. (Uhm, did you try going around the circle and then taking a left after you’ve gone around twice?) And do you know what happens as soon as I walk away from their car? I know exactly how to get to their destination, and I also know the easiest, fastest way to do it. (I must be the only person on this planet that can lose someone by trying to help them.)

This is a frustrating experience for everyone involved, and I used to feel really bad about it. Until I realized that giving directions is a lot like giving advice. You have to tell someone where to go without having the same experiences or knowledge as them. So, you try to relate what you’ve gone through, how you’ve gotten there, and how if they do blank and blank, they’ll arrive there, too. (Not to mention that you may not be telling them the fastest or best way, but it’s what you know.)

And even when they ignore you and your advice in favor of their own ideas and experiences, you still feel somehow responsible for steering them wrong. Almost as if you weren’t communicating clearly enough, almost as if your path was wrong, too.

But that’s not true at all. Because from the very beginning, that person was going to do what he or she thought was best to do, no matter if they had your blessing in the form of advice or not. If he or she was driving down a road that didn’t “look” right to them, they would take it upon themselves to try a different path, which would invalidate your “directions” entirely.

You are no more liable for someone not following your advice as you are for someone following it. In the end, it is entirely up to them in terms of what they do with your information, just like when you give someone directions. You can give them step by step diagrams, and it’s possible that it still isn’t going to bring them to their destination.

Now, if you’re thinking that this has been one thought-provoking conversation after a couple of people asked you for directions, Bailey, then you’d be right.

But I think there’s a real take-away here. It’s time to de-emphasize giving advice in favor of encouraging people to follow their hearts and seek their own truths.

Okay, okay, following your heart won’t get you to the mall, but it does work anywhere else a GPS is not required.

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