Mistaken Directions
by Eric Alan
September 12, 2021 - 8:42am

I didn’t ask for directions as I drove to town, nor did I seek a metaphor in the roadway. I only sought missing bank statements, and peaches from the farm stand.


However, I quickly discovered the urgency of ignoring new arrows on the freshly repaved road. Their dangerous insistence that cars turn right from the center lane was amusing, but alarming. Someone didn’t pay attention to their vital job.


Can’t guarantee I’d have done better. Working with hot chip seal to repair road surfaces, then repainting lines while dodging traffic, is a tough gig. Lately it was even tougher, since it had been as hot as one hundred and ten degrees. Wildfire smoke had blown in too, after lightning strikes set twelve fires to the east. Under those conditions, few would do the work well.


I safely turned into the bank parking lot by going against the arrows. It reminded me that some of the best decisions I’ve made in my life have involved ignoring the flawed advice of others. Despite their best intentions, people have given me bad advice about career, relationships, healing, and more. I’m sure I’ve given some bad advice myself.


Most bad advice isn’t malicious. It just isn’t right within a particular context. One direction is not fit for all travelers, at all times. What is wisdom in one moment may be foolish in another.


A boss of mine once gave me advice in that regard, which was good advice in that moment. “Good jobs are like good coats,” she said. “They’re only good if they fit you.”


Advice is only good if it fits you too. Same goes for a good lover, a good house, a good life. There may even be emergency situations when turning right from the center lane is essential.


We simply don’t know enough to always know what’s best—not only for others, but even for ourselves. Even when we do know what’s best, our attempt to guide it into being may be as flawed as a mistaken road arrow. We all take a few bad turns.


Humility is the best advice, in the end. None of us really know where we’re going, individually or collectively. Common beginnings and endings frame life, but between here and there? No one on can say what will happen next time we drive. No one can say what the person next to us silently feels and thinks. No idea how tomorrow’s game will turn out, let alone what wild new factors of deeper context will change everything without notice.


The reminder was good for me. So bad arrows gave me good advice, after all. The bank statements were also reconciled, the peaches didn’t disappoint, and our town soon removed the mistaken arrows in favor of no arrows at all. I still don’t know where we’ll all go tomorrow. That’s why it’ll be worth getting out of bed to find out.

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