Do you remember your most embarrassing work moment ever? I do.
I was a newly minted fundraiser, and I was taking the director of our organization (who was from out of town) to meet with a donor. We walked out of my office building, turned left and strode down the street. I must have seemed very sure as to where I was headed, for the director commented, "I like being with someone who knows where they're going!"
At that very moment I realized, that in fact, our meeting was in the opposite direction. Beyond mortified, I informed my colleague that we had to turn around and go the other way. I'm sure he laughed it off, but I have never forgotten how embarrassed I was that day.
This is my deep, dark secret. I am directionally impaired. No, let me amend that. Directionally clueless. I am missing the GPS chip in my brain.
I have lived in Washington, DC, for over 20 years, and I still don't know my way around the National Mall, let alone much of downtown. Forget Capitol Hill. The angled streets that city designer Pierre L'Enfant thought would so elegantly cut across the city are my worst nightmare – they chew me up and spit me out in the wrong direction every time. Don’t even mention the traffic circles.
Just last night I was driving home from downtown and I had to divert my path from my normal route. I knew I was on a parallel track to the street I usually use to get home from downtown, but I wasn't quite sure where it would come out. I held my breath until I found a connecting street that I actually recognized. I was five blocks from home.
Add to this disability the fact that I didn't learn how to drive until I was 30 years old (mostly because I was terrified), and you have a recipe for disaster. I am not a happy driver. I am not a driver who toodles around, happily enjoying the scenery and figuring I'll get there when I get there. I am the driver who needs to know EXACTLY what streets I am taking at all times. I am the driver who needs to be in the left lane miles before I am going to make the left hand turn. I am the driver who studies my MapQuest directions for 15 minutes before setting out. I am the driver who really needs a GPS in her car but has yet to acquire one, mainly because I try to avoid any and all driving that would require me to be somewhere new and unknown.
I don't know if this affliction is a product of the driving fear, or if it is a missing DNA link all of its own. All I know is that I try to compensate by acting cool, pretending that I'm happy to go anywhere, do anything needed. But I always leave extra time when I am going someplace new, to deal with the inevitable fact that I will, in all likelihood, get lost on my way.
For the most part, I appear normal, at least on the surface. But occasionally, I get found out. It happened again this week, and once again, it was a work-related incident.
I had the President of the Board of Directors of my organization in town from Israel for a conference. I was her escort, making sure she got from her hotel to the convention center and back and to a few meetings in between. Let me just note that not only is she the President of our Board, she is a well-respected politician, a former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) and an all-around Very Important Person.
Getting to the hotel and then to the convention center all went according to plan. But then we had a meeting mid-day outside of the convention center at a nearby restaurant.
I spent the better part of the morning studying the Google map to try to decipher the exact location of this restaurant. I thought I knew where I was going, and by the time we left for the meeting, I had the same pride in my step as I had many years ago when I walked down K Street in the wrong direction.
Sure enough, one of those stupid angled state streets screwed me up, and I couldn't figure out where we needed to turn. We took about a 10 minute walk around the block until we found the restaurant, which was precisely one-half block from the convention center … in the opposite direction from where we started out.
At least my charge had the chance to smoke two cigarettes on our way. But I was so embarrassed and stressed by the incident, I could barely contain my tears. Later that evening, as I drove her back to her hotel, said to me, kindly, "you don't like to drive, do you?" Aaacckk .. my other secret revealed. I felt like I was about five years old.
It's one thing when these things get botched up in my personal life. But when they affect my professional life and undercut my authority and ability to get things done, I'm cooked.
Growing up in New York City, "east" was Fifth Avenue and lower, toward the river. "West" was anything in the opposite direction. North was when the numbers went up, and south was when they went down. And the subway map would tell me how to get anywhere. What else did I need to know?
When I moved to DC, it became clear that the urban mapping of my youth was a useless tool. Early in our relationship, when my husband would start asking me questions about whether something was north or south, I would look at him like he had two heads. Who knew? Who cared?
But it is clear that, as a responsible adult, professional and parent, I need to take charge of my directional disability. So I am resolving to mend my ways. While I can't fix whatever directional synapse doesn't fire in my brain, I can work even harder to compensate. I can scout out locations prior to meetings. I can carry a compass. I can download Google maps on my phone. I can install a GPS in my car.
But mostly, I can take a deep breath and cross my fingers that there are no angled streets along the route.
(dedicated to the ever-patient N.Chazan.)
Photo by puatron via Flickr