A couple weekends ago, my wife and I took our son down to North Carolina for a wedding. We flew into Charlotte, rented a car, and drove the rest of the way to Asheville and our hotel. It’s a part of the country I had never been to before, even though I spent my four years of college in North Carolina, so I was pretty excited about it.
It was a great trip. Our hotel had an indoor salt water pool, which we had a lot of fun with (though it’s basically the same as a regular pool, it just tastes salty). We spent some time exploring downtown Asheville, a cool city that’s definitely got a feel of its own. We ate some delicious barbecue, threw around some rocks (my son’s favorite game these days), and of course went to my friend’s wedding.
There’s one part of the trip I’d like to highlight though, as I think it has some pertinent lessons for how we plan our lives. Not to get you all jazzed up or anything, but I’m going to wax poetic about our drive from the hotel to the wedding.
Our hotel was in Asheville, but the wedding was at this crazy castle-looking place about an hour west of Asheville in a town called Tuckasegee (side note: isn’t that a great name! Try saying it out loud. I promise you’ll feel at least 5% happier afterwards. Saying it fast is even more fun. That little game kept my son laughing for a good 15 minutes).
Our plan for the day of the wedding was to eat lunch and then head to the Arboretum, a place where we could do some leisurely hiking and explore a little bit of the outdoorsy stuff that Asheville is so famous for. It had been recommended by several people and it was close to our hotel, so we could get there easily, spend a couple of hours exploring, and then drive the last hour to the wedding. It was a perfectly efficient plan to maximize fun and minimize travel.
Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way. By lunch time our son was exhausted and clearly not up for an afternoon of hiking around. So, rather than forcing the ideal plan we had made above, we decided to switch things up. We packed up our stuff, put our son in his car seat, and set off towards the wedding spot.
Now, I said above that the wedding was about an hour away from our hotel. That’s true, but that’s not the way we decided to drive. Instead, we decided to take the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a road that takes you straight through the heart of the Smokey Mountains. While our son slept, my wife and I enjoyed the ridiculously beautiful views, like the one at the top of this post and the one here. We also got to pass through a bunch of these cool tunnels that cut through the mountains and had absolutely 0 lighting inside them. It was like passing through the center of the earth.
Instead of an hour, it took us about 2.5 hours to get to the wedding. It definitely wasn’t the most direct route, or the most efficient use of our rental car’s gas. But it was a really cool experience that I’ll never forget.
An important part of a fulfilling life is setting and reaching for long-term goals. A lot of people have goals to go to college, to get married, to have kids, to pay off debt or to retire early. Those are all fantastic goals well worth pursuing. And with a singular focus, they can all be done much quicker than you might think.
But sometimes in life, the most direct route to get where you want to go isn’t the best choice. If you’re spending all of your time and energy focused on achieving a long-term goal, what kinds of opportunities might you be missing out on along the way? And when you reach that goal, will you suddenly be able to flip a switch and start enjoying the present? Or will you have to set a new goal that you can devote your time to?
Finding a balance between working for tomorrow and living for today is never easy, but I think it’s the key to a truly happy life. Living too extreme in either direction will throw your life out of whack. You’ll either live it up today but have to live with the anxiety of not knowing what tomorrow might bring, or you’ll end up doing everything with your eyes on a “tomorrow” that never really comes.