RIGHT FACING typing-penguin-transSometimes it pays to ask for directions.

My wife, Jenny, recently gave me a GPS navigation unit – not the kind you run with but the kind for your car. Plug in your destination, and the GPS calculates directions. Mine had a name (Jack) and a voice that talks you through the directions.

I was so excited to go on my first test-drive with Jack. I punched in my destination – my son’s house – and eagerly waited for Jack to figure out how to get there. Of course, I knew the way. I simply wanted to have some fun with my new toy. Everything went great, until I started to drive the car. Within the first 100 yards, Jack informed me that I was going in the wrong direction. I started an argument with Jack, and then Jenny, in the passenger’s seat, started to laugh. Needless to say, things just went from bad to worse.

You see, Jack doesn’t give up easily. He starts insisting that you drive his designated route. But I was the one controlling the steering wheel and who had decided we were going my way – no matter what Jack wanted. Eventually Jack conceded, and, with no small amount of disdain in his voice, said that he was “recalculating” the directions.

My first run was a lot like that first drive with Jack. I was 43 years old, a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker, a chronic overeater, and a pretty committed drinker. I didn’t know anything about how to run. Despite my total lack of knowledge, I was convinced I knew how to get where I wanted to be. My road map was sure to lead me toward the sleeker, cooler, faster version of myself I foresaw so clearly. My genius plan was to run as far and as fast as I could every single time. On my very first run, however, my full-throttle speed turned into a waddle in about five seconds, at which point I was reduced to a trembling, gasping-for-breath, middle-aged man obviously headed in the wrong direction.

But, like many men, I didn’t stop to ask for help, and the result was just what you’d expect. In no time I had sore muscles, followed very shortly by achy joints, which quickly spiraled into constant limping, a physical inability to run, and feelings of despair.

Like Jack, it was time for me to recalculate. If I wanted to succeed, I had to acknowledge that running wasn’t going to be easy. The abuses I had piled upon my body weren’t going to disappear anytime soon. And the runner’s high was clearly light-years away. I finally realized the route I had set out on wasn’t going to make me the runner I had envisioned. The route I needed to take was going to make me the only kind of runner I could be: not the fastest or the sleekest, but a truly dedicated runner.

I’ve come to a point of understanding with Jack. Sometimes I’ll go the way he wants. Other times we compromise: I’ll let him pick part of the route, and he recalculates when I decide to go my way. I wouldn’t say we’re friends, but we’ve come to appreciate each other (as much as a computer and human can, anyway). I know he makes choices based on the best information he has – and sometimes it pays to listen to him. I also know that even with all the wrong turns I’ve made, the road I’m on has taken me on a journey I wouldn’t change for the world.

Waddle on, friends.

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