Obstacles, Optimism and Opportunity on the Open Road

By Lyn Wineman, President : Chief Strategist for KidGlov

About this time last year, I was driving home to Lincoln from Colorado. I was still on the adrenaline rush from two days of great meetings working toward getting our KidGlov Loveland office up and running.  The sun was shining, traffic was light and I was making good time on my journey.

Somewhere on Interstate 76 between Fleming and Crook, my Subaru Legacy’s lights blinked, and I felt the car become sluggish. I quickly pulled onto the shoulder and turned off the ignition. A call to AAA Roadside service revealed this was Ford and Chevy country – no one in the nearby towns could fix a Subaru. They arranged for a tow truck from Sterling (25 miles behind me) to come pick me up.

With cars speeding by and my own car inoperable, I could have entered a state of panic. Instead, I made the conscious decision to remain calm and optimistic. I called my husband, who was understandably concerned. I explained I was going to be fine – not sure if I was convincing him or myself.

When the tow truck arrived, the driver performed a cursory check of the Subaru and concluded that it wasn’t going to start. He loaded it onto the back of his truck and I jumped in the cab for the ride to Sterling. I asked him about an interesting tattoo on his arm, which lead to a great conversation about his youth, a devastating BMX bike accident and his journey of getting his life back together. I said what I could to encourage him and thanked him profusely for calling ahead and finding a shop that would look at my car right away.

The folks at Best West Tire & Service in Sterling were very kind. Still working to stay positive, I struck up a conversation with the customer service manager who had gone to college in Nebraska – the same school as my oldest daughter. The waiting area was nearly full when someone else came in and announced my “car was done.”

“Great!” I replied, thinking there was plenty of time to get back on the road and return to Nebraska.   “No,” he said, “you will never drive that car again. The motor has seized.” Once again, I consciously chose optimism over panic, and called my husband. “I wish I had good news,” I said, “But I don’t.” I explained the situation, reminding him the car was serviced before the trip.

I am sure the crowd of onlookers in the waiting area were bracing themselves for me to break into tears or a full-blown anxiety attack. A nice young man calmly informed me there were no rental car companies in Sterling and offered to let me ride with him to Fort Morgan (another 45 miles back).

In a matter of minutes, I had to collect everything out of a car I had driven for years and transfer it into the car of a stranger. The auto shop agreed to let me leave the Subaru while I figured out the situation.  In addition to my suitcase and brief case, folding chairs, a yoga mat and miscellaneous items in the glovebox and console, I had a trunk full of pumpkins and gourds that I picked up while visiting family in western Nebraska. I had a two-minute free garage sale for the employees of the tire shop, as they collected the items I deemed too large or unworthy of making the rest of the journey.

As we started the drive, my good Samaritan called his wife to explain he was helping me out and would be delayed returning home to Akron, Colorado. This call was as much about alleviating my fears in an unknown passenger seat as it was about husband/wife communication. I was just thinking, “If my daughters were in the same situation, would I advise them to get in the car with a complete stranger for a 45-minute drive through rural Colorado?”

After several deep, calming breaths I struck up a conversation with my new friend. He shared that he and his wife were starting up a new business, Colorado Craft Beef. Since I had some experience in both entrepreneurship and marketing, I was able to share some advice. We arrived in Fort Morgan just in time for me to lease the last rental car available right before closing time.

Now quite late in the day, I made arrangements to drive to western Nebraska and stay with family for the night. It was quite late when I arrived, and my aunt and uncle graciously welcomed me back into their home. I am not sure I’ve ever been so grateful for a warm hug and a soft bed. In the morning, they filled my rental car once again with pumpkins and gourds from their garden.

I returned home the next day, safe and sound. I was exhausted but in one piece. The next day I found a new car and shortly after made arrangements to have the old Subaru taken away, never really understanding what had happened.

Reflecting upon my Odyssey, I have taken a few lessons to heart:

Attitude is a choice.

There were many times during the 12-hour stretch that I could have chosen panic, fear, sadness or even hopelessness. I could have cried or shouted or wrung my hands in despair. I chose several times to remain calm and optimistic. This applies to everyday life as well. We can choose to remain optimistic, take setbacks in stride and see the positive aspects of a situation just as easily as we can focus on the negatives.

There are consequences for pushing too hard.

Before leaving for Colorado I knew that my 2009 Subaru was on its last legs. I had the goal of driving it until the end of the year when I’d replace it with a newer, better car. I knew I was asking a lot. Likewise, as a business owner, I lead an amazing team of people that I ask to work hard, try new things and put themselves “out there” in the world. In most cases, moving out of our comfort zone works in our favor – but occasionally it doesn’t. As a leader, I need to be ready to help pick up the pieces and move in a positive new direction when this happens. For the record, I am not going to stop pushing, but I am going to be more aware of the warning signs of pushing too far.

Opportunities are available – even when you least expect them.

I hope that my words of encouragement were impactful to the young tow truck driver. I also hope the people expecting me to fall apart in the auto shop waiting room found a small bit of courage when they saw I didn’t. Even more so, I appreciate my new friendship with Jeff Smith, and I’m thankful I found Colorado Craft Beef. I’m one of their new customers and I hope that they found my advice and encouragement to be helpful. Who knows where, and to whom, an open road could lead me next.