When I stepped into a local fast food restaurant this week, I was reminded about certain facets of our first bicycle tour. The restaurant had just reopened after remodeling, and a country radio station presence in the dining room attested to the hype. So did a whole army of management personnel and additional workers, who swarmed both the dining room and the kitchen. Apparently, training and setup hadn’t been completed.
I found my way to the new counter and a short line of one behind a couple who were placing their order. Ten minutes later, after watching the frenetic level of activity behind the counter, and still in position, I spoke softly over the shoulder of the gentleman in front of me, “Well, they look busy.” There wasn’t much reaction, but I chuckled anyway. Another minute later, with still no movement, I said to him, “What are all those people doing back there?” A brief “not much” was the response. Perhaps you, too, have experienced that feeling of invisibility.
While the order taker continued punching register buttons and negotiating with the couple, another worker assumed her station and helped the gentleman in front of me. I soon became her next customer. I ordered and made my way to the “pick up” counter, where I was reunited with my patient comrade. “I can see you’ve not made much progress yet,” I cracked again. As he twisted around, I was surprised to learn from his nametag that he was the restaurant manager, apparently a very tolerant one at that!
The scurrying kitchen troops had been as busy as ants tending their anthill. Yet, seemingly, there were little results. They had forgotten what they were there for: to serve paying customers! They had become so overwhelmed with a new system that their efforts had little visible effect on their corporate goal. This same type of confusion, if not well-intentioned but misdirected energy, was not an uncommon sight in the business world. It is easy to lose sight of the goal. Details and activity can have that effect. People sometimes needed to reconsider, or be tactfully reminded, just why they were there.
When Debbie and I first decided to bicycle across the country, thereafter followed the same type of furious activity in preparation for our journey. We weren’t logging any miles, but we sure were busy! We thought we were ready when the big day finally arrived, and there was a decidedly different direction, but confusion remained until we acclimated to and refined a system to make the type of progress we expected. Our preparations put us in a position to succeed, but no advanced training could really have prepared us for life on a bicycle tour.
There are two morals to this story. First, don’t be too busy with the details that you forget your purpose. Always come back to that all-important question that many still either fail to ask or simply can’t answer: “Why am I here?” If, in the grand scheme, we could solve that riddle, what a different world we would live in! Secondly, realize that the laboratory experience is never the same as the real thing. So, move out of the lab as quickly as you can. Learn about life from behind the handlebars, wherever your road is leading you.