On a recent visit to New York for work, I ended up staying in Secaucus, New Jersey, for the first three nights of my visit.
As the crow flies, Secaucus is a hop, skip and a jump from Midtown Manhattan. If the traffic is right, using a taxi or Uber, the trip from Secaucus across the Hudson to Times Square can take about the same time (or even less) that it does to drive from downtown Lafayette to Youngsville — seriously.
I had made the trip in a car from Secaucus to Manhattan twice. On my third foray into the city, it was rush hour traffic — when the short trip may be significantly longer and more expensive. I needed to meet someone and didn’t have a lot of time to get there. At that point, the train was the better option. Plus, public transportation is a boon to the pocketbook.
There were problems: I had never taken that particular train, and I wasn’t certain where the train station was. In fact, I wasn’t certain about any details of the process — including when/how often the trains ran, where to buy tickets, which train to take, exactly where the train would go in Manhattan and how much the ticket would cost.
I decided to take the train anyway. Ultimately, I learned it went to Penn Station — which worked out perfectly for my evening plans.
Figuring out all of the stuff to take the short train to Penn Station was more confusing and took more energy than I would like to admit. Even when I arrived at the Secaucus station, I wasn’t sure how to get into the building. Fortunately, I don’t mind asking people for directions. Several nice locals guided me to the right entrance. Then others showed me the ticket center. Then I followed the booming voice of the ticket taker at the turnstile to find my way aboard the right train.
All in all, the confusing part only lasted about five minutes. A short spurt of hyper-alertness and focus paid off — I got to where I needed to be on time for a fraction of the cost.
The next day, I ended up going back to the same train station in Secaucus to take the train to Penn Station. This time, with a friend who, like me only one day earlier, had never been to that particular train station. The difference between my feelings approaching the two visits (which occurred less than 24 hours apart) amazed me.
On my second visit, I knew which turns to take. I knew where and how to buy the ticket, how much it would cost, which gate to use and how often the trains ran. The second time around, I was the guide — yesterday’s five minutes made me an expert.
The second trip wasn’t stressful and took significantly less energy for me than the first one, and because I was there for my friend, the trip was easy-breezy for him.
In the midst of that second trip, I considered how different I felt the day before when I was on my own, in a rush and having to make decisions that could take me where I needed to be or to someplace altogether different. Also, there was the friend factor. I was not alone.
The comparison between those two trips gave me much to consider.
First, resisting doing something that I didn’t understand was overcome with a spurt of mental energy and led to great results.
Second, asking for help from someone familiar with the unfamiliar makes an enormous difference — and most of the time even strangers are happy to help. People like sharing knowledge that comes easy to them. Giving them that opportunity is a win-win.
Third, five minutes of focus can pay huge dividends.
Fourth, an experienced guide makes the unknown easier. This lesson may be the most important one of all. Sometimes we just need a friend to walk with us to help us get where we’re going. The task before us isn’t as difficult as it may seem — we just need someone to show the way and enjoy the ride with us.
And, sometimes, we need to be that person who goes ahead so we can help others the next time.