Conversations in Management: Going for a Ride

“You got to ride it like you find it.”

Woody Guthrie.

RideGoing for a ride just isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays people ride with a purpose. They get behind the wheel to go from point A to point B. They’re goal-oriented, mission-driven, they have a task to complete. Even an ostensibly relaxing and loosely organized road trip tends to, as Stephan Covey might have said, “begin with the end in mind.” Drivers of motorcycles and sports cars often have favorite circuits that they enjoy. It might be for the challenge of the road or scenic enjoyment but ultimately it remains a loop. It’s a structured and well-ordered ride. You might reasonably argue that’s what cars are for. Whether for work, pleasure or just daily living, it’s designed to get us someplace. And, of course, you’d be right.

But that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when folks would hop in the car and just, “go for a ride.” It wasn’t planned and there was never a timetable. It would just happen at some point—usually a Sunday afternoon—when there were no other obligations and the weather was nice. With little fanfare or preparation, the family would bundle into the car and off you’d go. Approaching the first intersection there was no certainty if you’d go left, right or straight ahead. You just figured it out as you went along and didn’t spend too much time with the “figuring” part. Kids, always savvier that given credit for, recognized it was just a ride and so temporarily shelved their annoying birthright of asking, “are we there yet?” This was a significant contribution to the Zen-like quality of relaxation that a ride produced. Maintaining that sense necessitated a steady migration to the countryside where the traffic thinned and the roads narrowed. Sometimes there’d be a stop. It might have been a pretty place or a roadside fruit and vegetable stand. If there was a stop it was by happenstance and a brief one at that. But the chief characteristic of a ride is movement and that’s what was important. A ride made you feel as if you were participating in the progression of time rather being subjected to it. Finally, as if by magic, after a couple of hours you’d find yourself at home. Climbing out of the car you’d stretch and life continued where it had left off.

A lot of things doomed the ride. Gas got expensive. People started thinking “green.” More fundamentally, the novelty wore off. When even a basic Chevy, Ford or Plymouth was considered a luxury, a ride felt like you were doing something special.  Driving doesn’t feel special anymore. We also got a whole lot busier. Families don’t get much down time because there’s always something to do. Our electronic tethers were certainly the final blow. A ride used to mean escape but now we’re never really away. There’s always something distracting us and demanding our attention.

Maybe it’s time to bring back the ride—in spirit if not in practice. Having a purpose driven life, purposeful career, purposeful family and purposeful fun can get wearying. Every now and then it might be good to do something with no purpose at all. We might try taking the “ride” as it is and not trying to improve it or buff it up in some way. It can be genuinely relaxing to take yourself as you are, not worry about tomorrow and just let things be. Going for a ride evaporates life’s pressures and is a quick corrective—a fast means of restoring perspective. So go for it!      —Ebert

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