One of the fun things about my cross-country trip last year was that I got to stop in my old undergraduate college town, which I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years.
Even though I didn’t have a car back when I was in school, I still more or less knew how to get to Chicago from there. As I left and got back on I-90, though, the GPS in our car eventually did a funny thing: it had me turn off of the Interstate and take a smaller highway. I thought it was strange, but I did it anyway, thinking that maybe there was a shortcut that our GPS knew about but that I didn’t— since the last time I had driven in Wisconsin was in 1990— and because I had to make a quick decision, since the choice came upon me rather suddenly.
Unfortunately, that meant that I did a weird sort of doubling back and was taken through local roads with speed limits of 30 mph and traffic lights, as well as through Strips that were being cruised by suburban teenagers. Bottom line: I added another hour or hour and a half to my trip.
I chalked it up to our car’s GPS “just going haywire.” The next day, though, I made sure to get a better idea of my route on a map before I left, just in case. I was on my way from Chicago to the tiny sliver of Northwestern Pennsylvania that lies between Ohio and New York State.
Everything went fine with GPS, at first— it had me taking the route that I had charted that morning. But at some point after crossing over into Indiana, our GPS had me going off of I-90 again to take another highway toward the south. My gut told me that that was profoundly wrong. I had the presence of mind to check it out, and I was right: our GPS would have had me take a 3-hour detour through Indianapolis. Later, after ignoring our GPS’ directions, it had me taking a detour through Michigan to the north. I knew that was wrong, too, so I ignored it again.
Ignoring our GPS wasn’t easy— I was driving through parts of the country that I had never driven through and felt like a neophyte, while our GPS presumably was an Authority drawing off of some vast bank of electronic knowledge that I could only guess at. But the second day, I trusted my knowledge— however limited it may be— and myself in the face of receiving contradicting information from this outside authority.
It turned out— I learned later— that our GPS was on a setting that had it giving me routes that avoided tolls.
So, take it from me: if your gut, your intuition, is telling you that something you are seeing or doing is wrong, then chances are that it is. If your child is doing something you have a bad feeling about— whether there’s a good reason for it or not— pay attention to that feeling. If somebody is telling you a story about what you have to do for work or for a relationship, which doesn’t sound right to you, explore that doubt in your mind further. If your gut is telling you a place to live is not the right one for you, don’t dismiss it immediately. If a doctor is telling you something about your body that screams ‘Wrong!’ to you, get a second opinion. If your intuition tells you to take a piece of writing in a ‘where the hell would I go from there?’ direction, try going down that path anyway instead of just playing it safe and conventional. If your intuition draws you toward a certain artistic idiom, don’t fight it, even if it’s not an idiom within which you normally work. After all, ‘Authorities’ and conventional wisdom can be wrong, but your true intuition rarely is.