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How did you get here?

By QuaWanna Bannarbie

My best friend’s 11-year-old daughter was visiting with us recently and on the drive to take her home, I asked “do you know where you are?”

I could see from the rearview mirror that she was looking out of the window the entire time she was sitting in the backseat, but apparently she was just gazing into space. She responded, “No, I don’t know where you are going.” Her response reminded me of a lesson I learned as a young girl. My mother taught me to always pay attention to the route that the driver was taking whenever I was riding in a car or on the bus. She said, “You need to be able to identify where someone is taking you, and you need to know how to get home if you ever get lost.” She would even test our knowledge of street names. Other times, she asked my sisters and me to be her personal navigator telling her when and where to turn as we traveled from our home to familiar places we would go. Momma actually trained me to give directional commands before I became the navigator of a U.S. Navy warship. I knew the importance of paying attention to my travels because I learned at an early age how to answer the question, “how did you get here?”

It was easier to give directions to Momma when we traveled to and from familiar places. Sometimes she would change route, just so we knew that there were more ways to get home than one. We always recalled the familiar routes more than we did the unfamiliar ones. There is a reason for that. According to a 2014 article by Harvard Business Review writer, Srini Pillay, “When someone or something is unfamiliar, the brain is less engaged and empathic and has to use greater effort as well.” In the same article titled “How to Deal with Unfamiliar Situations,” Pillay suggests that there are different ways that we can overcome the unfamiliar by seeking subjective characteristics in the current environment and be aware not to make “habitual decisions that were relevant to the past and not the present or future.”

Sometimes, life events hijack my mother’s voice, asking me to retrace the journey in my thoughts, intentions and choices, begging the question, “How did you get here?”

As an adult sojourner who is nearing the milestone of half a century of living, I am well aware that the answer to that question is not always concerning geographic location as it relates to maps and cardinal directions. There are also familiar routes in our mental maps.

I recently discovered that some of my bad habitual nature has become habitable, meaning that I have made a home with behaviors and intentional processes that are not serving me well. I am too comfortable with familiarity. I did not realize how much I actually need the unfamiliar to help me to grow and to continue growing. Familiarity is stunting my growth.

We want something that we can trace the path back to where we came from. During the pandemic, we have been forced to engage our brain on a level we are not used to. It is uncomfortable, and it does not feel good. Yet, I believe that the ultimate goal of unfamiliar situations is to remove your dependency on where you have been. We need to be able to adapt to new contingencies. The journey to where you are should look messy, because it is not a straight and understandable line. The journey to get to where you are destined to be can only be navigated by following the commanding voice of Our Heavenly Father. So when someone asks you, “How did you get here?” your only response can be, “It was truly by the grace of God.”

QuaWanna Bannarbie is an adjunct professor of nonprofit leadership and management with Indiana Wesleyan University, National and Global. Connect with her via iamquawanna@thebiggerme.net or via Twitter @QNikki_Notes.