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Keep Making Progress

We had an ice storm across Illinois in early December about 10 years ago and I was in Toronto for a speaking engagement that week. Flying out of Springfield for years had taught me the value of reserving a rental car at O'Hare as backup whenever bad weather was predicted on my planned return date to Springfield in case there was any trouble with the flight. Sure enough, my flight was cancelled that night and so, as I walked to the shuttle to get my car, I called my wife. "Don't come," she said. "It's really bad." Unfortunately, I've always been a "find-out-for-myself" kind of guy, so I did not take her advice.

She was right, of course. It was bad. Really bad. Like, really, really bad. Many of us have been there--can't see 20 feet ahead, thrilled to come up behind a semi because then you know you're still on the road, trying to decide if you should pass him because he's only going 25--for miles-long stretches at a time.

But, sometimes, it wasn't as bad. I certainly wasn’t going 70 and I don’t think I even got to 50 very often. But there were times when the falling ice dwindled a bit, the path cleared somewhat, a you could see a little further down the road. There were enough of those times that before too long I had made it all the way to Bloomington. I decided to stop to get a soda and use the restroom there. When I walked into the gas station just off the exit, the old boy sitting behind the counter about jumped out of his seat, excited to see someone who had braved the treacherous roads. "How's it going for you out there?" he asked expectantly. 

I knew the answer he wanted. He wanted me to tell him how bad it was, how terrible the road conditions were, how impossible it was to keep going.

But I didn't feel that way. I was thrilled with where I was and how far I had made it. I had developed a backup plan to stay there even if I had to wait until the next day to get moving again. I had heard somewhat better reports about the road conditions ahead. Above all, I was feeling really good that I was so close to my goal--my home--and knew that I had a great shot to get there. 

So, I didn't know what to say to my friend at the gas station. I guessed that he was used to hearing everyone’s sad story. I was sure he was looking for another report on Snowmageddon. I knew he wanted me to say how terrible it was. But I was feeling pretty good. The brief break had taken some of the pressure off. I was satisfied with where I was, and I knew my plan to keep going. Not knowing what to say, I shrugged and blurted out, "Well, I don't know, I'm making progress."

That old boy sat back down in his chair with a smile, nodded, and said, "Well, that's a great way to live your life."

I've shared that story with friends, in seminars, and to dozens of clients since then and I think it is a particularly useful memory today. It's bad right now. Conditions are terrible. And I know, for many, it seems impossible to go on. Still, through all of that, keep making progress. It's a great way to live your life.

Kevin Lust is the Director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Lincoln Land Community College and the Founder and Owner of Lust Development Group, Inc. He has been providing information and inspiration to hundreds of businesses and thousands of people in his thirty years as a professional speaker, trainer, and consultant.

This story is all true---the gas station in question was the Amoco at the Market Street exit in Bloomington--and I have shared this story probably hundreds of times since then. I think it was remarkably wise advice from that counter attendant that night and particularly comforting and actually inspiring guidance for today. Hope it helps.


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