“Get Lost” Rides

Some of my fondest childhood memories are taking a drive with my parents and older siblings, with me sitting in the back seat of the car.

On longer rides, I would sometimes take my sketch pad and try to draw something I had in mind. When the car would hit a bump or pothole, my careful drawing would suddenly have a jagged line running through it. There was nothing to do but try to incorporate that line into my drawing. It would change my original vision, but it sometimes led to something new and wonderful that I hadn’t thought of.

And then there were what we called Get Lost rides.

The rules of Get Lost rides are simple. Without using any maps, the passengers in the car direct the driver which turns to take and which direction to drive. They have an hour to try to get the driver lost. Then the driver has an hour to get back to the starting point but is not allowed to go home the same way. If the driver can’t make it back in an hour, the passengers win. There are no prizes; it’s just a matter of enjoying the game and the ride itself.

The classic Get Lost story took place before I was born. My brother and sister would direct my father on a Get Lost ride. From our home in Newark NJ, they would direct my father to drive to Staten Island and onto the ferry heading to Manhattan. Their hour would run out while on the ferry, and my father’s hour would begin. It was sneaky because an hour was not enough for him to finish the ferry ride and then drive to NJ from Manhattan through a different route. So they would gleefully win.

Sometimes the roles would reverse, and the driver would have an hour to get the passengers lost. Even though we children didn’t know the roads and routes as well as the driver, it was an invaluable learning experience for me. For one, I developed a great sense of direction. But even more beneficial was that I never really feel “lost” when I didn’t know where I was, because there was an inner sense that I could always find my way. When I got older, I would even go on Get Lost rides by myself, discovering new routes and areas, eventually finding my way back home. The experience ended up applying to realms far beyond car rides.

For example, when I create a new painting, I often start with a sense of what the final painting will look like. But I don’t force the painting to match my vision. Instead, I engage in a subtle interplay between steering the route that the painting will take and allowing the painting to teach me where it wants to go. There are no mistakes — no getting lost — that I can’t find my way back from.

One might think that my work programing websites is an exercise in pure logic — the antithesis of free-wheeling creative expression. But when I’m feeling my best at work, I’m approaching it with the same open-minded attitude I learned from Get Lost rides. Conversely, I’m most miserable when I try to force my work to conform to a pre-ordained outcome, especially when my work is battling me right back. Because there’s always a chance of a jagged line suddenly appearing where I don’t want it.

If a jagged line suddenly appears in your art, your career, or your life, you can tap into your inner compass to help guide you. Even if it doesn’t speak as loudly or as quickly as you’d like, you can do what I do: take a deep breath, step back away from the noise, the inputs, the devices, and judgments. With practice, it will eventually direct you to take a different route, one that will eventually lead you home.