Thursday, February 17, 2011
A few years ago a friend of mine was thinking about some financial investments that I thought were a bad idea. I was trying to discourage her without telling her what to do — it was her life after all, she didn’t need me to tell her how to live it. But one of the ideas actually went beyond being a bad idea and moved into being moderately illegal. I pointed that out to her and thought she’d say, “Oh yeah, you’re right.” But she didn’t. She said, “Well maybe if you look at it like that it would be, but if I did it like this, it would be fine, and anyway, who would know?” And I was like okay that’s definitely fraud and we need to stop talking about this.
So I stopped talking to her about it but felt like I needed to give her my full opinion and wrote it out in a letter that I sent it to her in the mail, telling her that she was free to do anything she wanted but I would not be participating. (And, for the record, she did listen to me in the end.)
After getting the letter, she thanked me, and I told her a story that had been useful to me in trying to decide whether or not things were a good idea, and when to decide that they probably weren’t.
A few years ago, there was a terrible tragedy involving a family who were driving home to San Francisco from a holiday in Seattle. They were going to spend the night on the Oregon coast, but missed the turn off the interstate onto the main road and decided to take an alternate route. The alternate route had warning signs that it was not always passable in winter, but they didn’t see the signs, or saw them but chose to ignore them.
It was late at night and the weather was bad, then got worse, and they took another wrong turn onto a remote logging road that should have had a gate up to close it but didn’t. After twenty miles, it was very late and the weather was too bad to continue. They stopped for the night, and the next day found themselves snowed in. No one knew where they were, and they couldn’t reach anyone for help because there was no cell phone service in the area. After six days, the gas in their car was gone, their food had run out, they had burned the tires of the car trying to light a signal fire, and still no one knew where they were. The husband set out on foot to see if he could get out and get help. He died in a river bed a few miles from a fully stocked hunting lodge, after walking for two days. His wife and two young children were rescued by helicopter after a massive search.
This story sounded so strange to me.
I didn’t understand how this could happen. I wondered if it was a case of people being so reliant on technology (GPS, cell phone) that they were literally lost without them. I got obsessed trying to find news articles about them to see if I could learn what had happened.
By the time I started researching, it had been over for a few weeks, so most of the articles were about what a hero the husband was, dying to try to save his family, or how shameful the rescue effort had been. But I still didn’t understand how someone could get so lost, in this day and age, that they ended up driving into the middle of nowhere, were completely stranded for more than a week, and died.
I eventually found some articles that gave more details, and some of them were pretty fascinating.
The signs warning them that the road was not open in the winter were not small obscure signs, they were giant. There were branches and tree limbs down all over the road; it was nearly impassable in many spots. In fact, in places the road was almost completely blocked with rocks and boulders. But instead of realizing they had taken a wrong turn and going back and starting over, for whatever reason, they kept moving forward. It was reported that they had even gotten out of the car to move obstacles out of the way, including huge boulders, so they could keep going.
Obviously without having been there, we can never know what really happened, but the story as told seemed like a good analogy for a lot of things.
If you’re going along and everything is really hard and there are constant obstacles, maybe that’s not what you should be doing. Maybe you should turn around and go back to where you started and try a new route.
Because anyone can make a wrong turn, that’s easy to do. But don’t spend energy moving boulders out of the way so you can keep going in the wrong direction.