The Side of the Road

By Monica O’Neil

Dark: the colour of my disorientation, the cloudy mood in our car, the sky outside, and my fear of
losing our way. I was tired, with a car full of very little people who needed to be in warm beds. My husband and I were driving in unfamiliar Albany, a small country town in Western Australia’s Great Southern Region. Well, he was driving and I was navigating. Normally we are a crack team at this as I’m good with maps in any direction and he drives well. However, the town had recently installed a vast number of roundabouts. What they had not yet installed was any directional signage. Google maps didn’t exist. Juggling a tiny torch and trying to scan for bearings that night was beyond me. I was crumbling. I couldn’t see the way for all the roads.

The exit options on the roundabout were sometimes two, sometimes three, four or five. It seemed they presented themselves too fast and in the darkness they were no longer hopeful roads that
might lead to a warm room and bed, they were purveyors of panic!

The points of decision were coming at me too fast and with limited visibility, both inside the car and
out, I transformed from ‘Supernavgirl’ into a sobbing distraught blob despairing of ever seeing a
warm bed for my children ever again.

If only I’d had a mentor with me right then.

Maybe the conversation and actions that evening evening would have gone like this…

‘Let’s pull over to the side of the road and pause. And let’s do that at each turn if needed because the pause will give precious time for clarity and wisdom to emerge. Let’s take the time on the side of
the road to do the tricky work of translating the landscape we see and the map we have, in the light
of the destination we have in our mind and heart.’

I might have been reminded that navigating relies on several things including, but not limited to:

  • Getting accurate bearings for where you are. Max De Pree says the first task of leadership is to define reality.
  • Getting clarity about the destination. If there is no destination that matters, perhaps any
    road really will do. If, however, it does matter it holds us to course and all recalibrations are
    towards it.
  • A knowledge of possible routes and the markers indicating when each choice must be made.
    Sometimes its tiny side exits that confuse. If we can note their presence we can ignore them when they come into view.
  • Observation of the conditions to be encountered. Are the roads sealed, flooded, or
    potentially blocked by a rock fall? Is the only route risky and what can be done to prepare? Is there a safe option which is only a couple of kilometres longer?

I know it’s a metaphor, but a metaphor lets you and I translate it to our mentoring context. I’m
proposing that one of the things we offer as a mentor is a metaphorical pitstop, a side of the road
moment. That pause on the side of the road helps to define reality, to clarify or re-clarify the desired
outcomes and to recalibrate their journey in a space of quiet peace and wisdom.

“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were
not seen.” Psalm 77:19

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *