As an adventurer who is also quite the introvert, it only makes sense that I embarked on my latest cross-country road trip solo. I successfully drove from Rhode Island to California with none other than me, myself, and I. These are just a few of those lessons I learned along the way.
By Jess Evora; Feature Photo: Salt Flats, Utah – July 2019
First, Why did I drive cross-country? An incredible career opportunity has prompted my return to California – this time to the town of Merced in California’s Central Valley, where I will be joining the Student Affairs division at the University of California – Merced as the Associate Director for the Margo F. Souza Leadership Center.
I enjoyed 5 amazing days on the road to Cali to begin this new phase of my life. Below I share with you 3 of the life lessons of which I was reminded during this incredible trip.
Lesson #1: Continue to give yourself room to fail.
I am ambitious. I always aim to live bold. On the other side of that, I am also quite stubborn. Once I decide on a goal, I go for it – regardless of whether others say I’m doing too much. This road trip helped remind me of the importance of recognizing my limits. We all have limits, and discovering those limits is a never-ending process.
I told myself I could drive 15-hours straight. People told me it was too much. I didn’t care. Therefore, it did hurt a bit when I found myself in Toledo, Ohio, still 4 hours from Chicago, the first destination of my road trip.
The sun was quickly setting, and – to be honest – I felt uncomfortable driving at night in the unknown Midwest. Therefore, I had to call it a night.
I called my cousin to let her know I wouldn’t be arriving at her home in Illinois until the next morning. I was disappointed in myself. Day 1 and I was already off-track. However, the feeling of relief that washed over me when I arrived at my hotel in Ohio confirmed that it was okay that I wasn’t able to conquer the first leg of my trip.
The next morning, I felt refreshed, and even more excited to drive the last 4 hours to Chicago. I was especially appreciative to be able to enjoy the views along the way.
In this situation, I was reminded that failure is a good thing. Failure can lead to better results. Failure is inevitable, and will always provide great lessons, which will bring better overall results in the end.
After that night, I decided the rest of the trip would be done only during the day when I could enjoy the view. This decision led me to stumble upon beautiful experiences I would have otherwise missed had I continued to remain so strict about arriving at certain checkpoints on a fixed timeline.
Lesson #2: Emotional Intelligence is extremely important in order to survive and thrive in new environments.
We all know there are several versions of America, and a few of those variations are not quite welcoming to people of color. I became hyper-aware of this as I drove the country solo.
I’m tall (5’9″), melanated, and I proudly wear my long, silver box braids, which run down to my lower back.
I don’t always blend in. I’m aware of this, and I’ve learned to give people grace. I’ve become accustom to people staring at me, whether it’s my skin, my hair, or my Rhode Island license plate passing them by on the Wyoming stretch of Interstate 80.
However, as much grace as I’m willing to give, I also find myself contemplating at what point does it become unfair to me that I have to give so much.
I realize providing grace can be emotionally taxing, even as someone who was fortunately wired with more empathy than the average person. The simple act of contemplating when & where to give this grace can consume a lot of emotional energy.
This is why emotional intelligence is so important. Emotional Intelligence s defined by the American Psychological Association as “a type of intelligence that involves the ability to process emotional information and use it in reasoning and other cognitive activities”.
Emotional Intelligence contributes to self-preservation, which is extremely important for all leaders, but especially women and people of color in the workplace.
Emotional Intelligence allows you to better understand how you react to new situations, and it helps to better make sense of the world around you. We live in the Digital Era in which things change at an accelerated pace, and having the emotional intelligence to navigate and quickly react to this change on a consistent basis will be critical to survive in the workforce of tomorrow.
The need to adapt quickly in today’s workforce was clearly outlined in the Global Leadership Forecast 2018. Take a look at this report if you enjoy a good read backed-up by data!
During my trip, I got a good taste of what accelerated change looks like, having visited multiple states in just one day – 5 days in a row. By the time, I got used to one state, I found myself already in another.
Lesson #3: I will always have my blindspots. It’s up to me to continue to seek them out.
As someone who is from tiny Rhode Island, I’m always up in arms ready to address misconceptions about my home state. As a result, I feel that I am more sensitive and open-minded about my own preconceived notions regarding various parts of this country. However, I still find myself surprised and proven embarrassingly-wrong regarding my understanding of different areas of the United States.
During my trip, I sometimes unfortunately found myself placing gross generalizations on entire states that were simply unfair – the exact type of generalizations that I deal with as a Rhode Islander. For example, there is indeed traffic in Nebraska (Who would have thought!? Haha! It’s all love Nebraska!!!).
But seriously, this trip was a great reminder that no matter how aware and open-minded I think I am, I will always have to actively seek out my blindspots.
Self-awareness is critical to leadership (as was outlined in this 2018 Forbes article). And I realize the only way to strengthen my self-awareness is to do the following:
- Continue to put myself in new situations that test my understanding of people, cultures and concepts.
- Actively seek out useful feedback regarding my abilities and actions as a leader & as a person.
There really are countless ways to increase your self-awareness, which include traveling, speaking to people with different perspectives, and attending events that place you outside of your comfort zone. This is why this solo trip was so important to me.
Self-awareness also contributes to better communication, which is considered one of the most important skills needed to become a good leader.
I remember finally reaching the border of California after 4 days on the road from Rhode Island. Driving through the green hills of Tahoe National Forest was breath-taking. I felt so accomplished and so in-tune with myself.
I was able to drive and reflect on my life journey thus far. Words cannot express the feeling that washed over me as I finally arrived in Cali. However, if I had to think of one word… that word would be “grateful”.
I am grateful to have explored this country on my own terms. Having those countless hours to just think as I enjoyed the beautiful landscapes of the U.S. proved to be extremely therapeutic.
Now, as I begin the process of resettling in my new home, I look forward to the experiences that lay ahead of me here in California, especially those opportunities that I don’t yet know exist. I get to continue to learn more about this world, and at the same time learn more about myself.
Thanks for taking the time to share this journey with me, and best of luck as you seek out your own adventures.
One thing is for sure: life has so much in store for us.
Life Lessons Learned Only Through Travel
Failure is a Part of the Process | Deshauna Barber | Miss USA 2019
- Center for Creative Leadership
- International Society on Emotional Intelligence
- Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence
- The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
- 4 Steps to Becoming a More Self-Aware Leader | July 2019 – Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management
- Examples of Why Self-Awareness is Important | June 2019 – TrackingHappiness.com
- How A Lack Of Self-Awareness Leads To Ineffective Leadership | Forbes – Feb. 2019
- RI Map: Image by WikiMedia
- Desert Road: Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay
- Green Hills Road: Image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay
- All other photos by Jess Evora
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