Last September, I took a trip to Florida.
However, this wasn’t a simple ‘book your flight, pack your bag, and stay for a week’ kind of trip. No, this was a three-thousand-mile road trip straight across the United States, from sunny southern California to Florida, with three kids in a minivan. The trip was pre-planned over six months and involved a one-month stay with family — including three brothers whom I had never met before in my life. Whew…
Needless to say, a three-thousand-mile road trip going anywhere is going to teach you a lot about yourself. However, I could have never imagined just how incredibly valuable the trip was going to be.
3 Life Lessons from Taking a 3,000-Mile Road Trip Across the U.S.
I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.
– Mary Anne Radmacher
It’s been one year since we took our epic road trip, and since then, I’ve been able to reflect on it quite a bit. I learned a lot on that trip, much of which I learned once we arrived in Florida. But that’s a different story. The cross-country trek was a journey in itself that taught me things about life and myself that I’ll always hold dear.
In particular, there are three incredible life lessons I took from my journey across the country:
1. It’s hardest in the beginning, you just have to push through
Before we even took off, on the day we were scheduled to set out, I started second-guessing myself. I wasn’t second-guessing taking the trip, I couldn’t have looked forward to it more, particularly meeting my brothers. What I was second-guessing myself on was the crazy idea that I’d take my family three-thousand miles across the country and put myself up for a full two-day drive without much money to my name (the month-long stay there in Florida was going to sap everything from me).
We had a middle point, my wife’s cousin in Texas who was gracious enough to take us in between our trip, but it was still going to be extremely difficult. I was no stranger to driving long distances, having driven to Northern California and Las Vegas in the past (both half-day and six-hour trips respectively), however, this was roughly two days worth of driving.
I knew from before the trip that it can be difficult to get yourself going but that once you do it becomes progressively easier. However, something about personal experiences teaches us in an accelerated manner like nothing else can. Once we got going, after a few hours I felt a wave of relief. I knew I could do it and was filled with nothing but excitement.
Oftentimes, all you need to do is take that first step. Before we do, our goals can seem large in scope and almost insurmountable. However, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish if you take that first step and simply place your focus on taking one small step after another from there. The cool thing is, once you do that, you often gain an incredible amount of momentum that allows you to not only keep going, but accelerate your progress several times over.
2. The difficult choices (and actions) now lead to a more meaningful life later
It’s not our fault, we’re programmed to see out relief for what we feel now in this moment. Hunger, fatigue, thirst, all of these essential experiences program us to seek out relief immediately. And worse, the Internet has shortened our attention spans and made it easier than ever to get information in the blink of an eye. The result is we’re used to getting what we want exactly when we want it across most domains in life.
However, big goals aren’t so convenient. They won’t come to you and you need to devote at least several years of strong, consistent effort to accomplish them. For most people, this is far more effort than they’re willing to put in to get anything.
Planning this trip took a lot of effort. There were times where I’d step back and think, if for no reason other than automatic programming, “I’m not doing this, it’s so much work just to plan for this damn trip.” But you know what? We felt in our hearts that it was worth it before I even stepped into Florida (and it became far more memorable by the time we left).
That trip across the country was an amazing experience and the value of the proceeding stay with my family was on a value that I can’t begin to describe. And while that road trip was hard as hell, for the rest of my life I’m going to remember that entire trip (I’m taking a plane next time, thanks) as one of the greatest moments of my life and something I’m so glad I did. I still look back on that trip now and find a lot of joy and fulfillment from it even today, and I’m sure I’ll continue to for the rest of my life.
3. The importance of balance
Easily the most significant lesson of all, my three-thousand-mile road trip taught me the importance of balance. By that, I mean balancing one’s efforts when working towards any great goal or achievement. Let me explain.
At the end of our trip, we got everything together and prepared to head back home. It was bittersweet, with us enjoying the trip so much that, in many ways, we didn’t want to leave. Since we had taken the trip once before, we no longer feared it. We knew what was in store and felt more confident because we had done it once before.
However, I underestimated just how different that second trip, the trip back home, would be. What was, in the beginning, a long and arduous journey on the way to Florida had suddenly become an incredibly fast and easeful adventure on the way back. The difference was night-and-day.
But why? What led to such a significant difference in difficulty from one trip to the next? We learned how to properly balance our efforts. On the way there, my wife and I weren’t quite sure how long each of us could go before the other needed to “tag out” and have the other take their place at the wheel. We also weren’t sure how long we all could go without stopping for a break. Everything was unfamiliar.
However, with a little experience and some conscious adjustments, the trip back home was methodically planned to allow for the perfect balance of work and rest. So, the trip was clearly easier, but what about speed? The trip there took us five days including breaks. The trip back? Less than two days. We even took two extra breaks to enjoy some of the notable stops along the way, something we had no energy to do on the way there.
Work smarter and harder, not just harder
Most of us live and work in a way that we kill ourselves to accomplish our goals, believing that it’s necessary for maximizing our productivity. However, this methodology couldn’t be more wrong.
For years, I’ve practiced mindfulness meditation and learned the art of working smarter and more intentionally as opposed to killing myself to max out my performance. I used to kill myself working, going with little sleep (if any) for days thinking that if I stopped, I’d lose out. But I was wrong and I saw this lesson in action more clearly than ever while taking our road trip and it taught me something that I’ll take with me forever.
How well do you balance your efforts? Can you notice when you’re at half efficiency? When you’re tired and have to take a break? Learning about yourself and becoming a self-expert is critical if you want to realize your most productive self.
Productivity and maxing out in life isn’t about working stupid and constantly banging our head against a wall, it’s about working smarter while working your hardest. It’s about working intentionally, gauging our performance, making constant adjustments, and consciously balancing our efforts in a way that keeps us at maximum efficiency.