Few people think of a detour as an opportunity.
Instead, we view detours as terrible changes to our carefully made plans; obstacles we need to overcome quickly before we waste another second or mile travelling down a path we didn’t plan for.
We obsess over how much the detour sent us out of our way, and in the process, miss out on many opportunities we could have snagged if we only paid attention.
My First Major Detour
After completing my associate’s degree in the humanities, I fully intended to pursue a bachelor’s in psychology. I applied to Jamaica’s version of an Ivy League college, filled out all the paperwork, and held my breath.
Almost nothing in life is as nerve-racking for a young adult as waiting on a college acceptance letter. So as a back-up, I also applied for a bachelor’s in business at another university.
I got into both.
My mother was ecstatic. I was the first member of my small, close-knit family to pursue a bachelor’s degree, and she was more proud of me than she had ever been in my entire academic career.
Naturally, she believed I would pursue my big dreams of becoming a psychologist. But instead, I chose to study business at the so-called second best university on the island. It would take an extra year to finish that degree, and would work out to a couple thousand dollars more for tuition.
So why did I make this decision?
A number of factors came into play.
Though I absolutely loved studying human behaviour and social issues, I was beginning to have doubts about pursuing this as a career in Jamaica. Most Jamaicans don’t go to shrinks to talk out their problems.
Just as in African-American culture, mental pressure and mental illness is a personal problem, and seeking professional help is often viewed as the equivalent of admitting defeat. So where was my customer base after I graduated?
But even while completing my first year of business studies, I still had doubts. I worried that I had made the wrong decision and wondered if I would come to regret this for the rest of my life.
I reminded myself that my real dream was to write, and that even psychology was a Plan B. Did it really matter then if I tried my Plan C instead; especially when it looked like a more feasible option?
Well eight years later, looking back on the decision I made, I’m extremely grateful for the detour. Today, my business degree comes in far more handy in my writing career than a psychology degree ever would. I learned all the skills I needed to run my own show, and got the opportunity to pursue my real dream of being a wordsmith.
Not surprisingly, this reinforced my personal belief that often times a detour takes you down a much better path than the original road you intended.
A More Literal Detour
For instance, last winter, when Michael and I travelled to Illinois, we took a straight shot to the Quad Cities. We made as few stops as possible and cranked through the 13-hour drive with our eyes glued to the road.
Nothing would stop us! The sooner we got it over and done with, the better. It was an incredibly stressful experience, sparsely littered with a few moments of fun and laughter.
On this trip to Illinois, we made the same plan. However, due to other obligations to friends, family, and ourselves we ended up going to bed at 4AM, waking up an hour later than planned, and leaving out two hours later than we originally intended.
By the time we got on the road, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that this was not one of those days when things would go as planned.
As Murphy’s law dictates:
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Yet, we didn’t view any of it as “things gone wrong” per se. Instead, we embraced the set-backs and sought to make the best of it.
So rather than make a straight shot for Illinois this time, we decided to stop at whatever attractions got our attention. This led to a wine tasting in Tennessee, and a tour of a distillery in Kentucky.
Of course these exploits tacked on an extra two hours at least to our already 13-hour drive, but it made the experience a richer and more pleasant one.
We tried new things, saw new places, met great people, and enjoyed the wonderful crafts of smalltown owners who had poured their all into doing what they loved.
I share these stories to encourage all of us to rethink our opinions of detours in life – and we’ve all had them.
Whether it’s changing majors halfway through college, working in a different field because that’s the only job you could get, or moving across the state to find any work at all… we’ve all been there.
But rather than waste our time only looking for signs which point us back to the main roads of our plans, it’s time we also consider what benefits we can get from the detour we’re already on.
You might not get fancy wine and bourbon like we did, but these are often opportunities to pick up new skills, make valuable connections, or find a career you actually love in a place you never dreamed of living.
Detours broaden your horizon and open you up to experiences you may have never planned for yourself. My marriage, my degree, my career – these were all parts of detours I took along an otherwise carefully crafted plan that just wasn’t yielding the results I thought it would have.
So be more open to the possibility of a better way, and the grand unplanned opportunities that detours can bring to your life.
Check out some of the pictures from our detours below.