Gas for the trip

Stop getting just "Gas for the Trip"

My wife goes to the gas station and, instead of filling up, will put $20 in her tank.  It drives me crazy.  After fifteen years together, it’s one of a very short list of items that she does that bugs me.  Her list for me, by the way, is much longer.  In fact, I think she’s hired a consultant to build a database around it.

But this affliction is very, very prevalent.  We all suffer from it in one way or another.  It affects us personally, as well as professionally; emotionally and even physically.  It may very well be one of the main barriers toward sustainable success in our lives.  Taking shortcuts, it should come to no surprise, is as destructive to growth as any other actions or thoughts we have.

So why do we do it?  I remember my college days when I’d pull up to the gas station and plop down a handful of change on the counter.  “67 cents on pump number three,” I’d confidently, without a hint of embarrassment, tell the person behind the counter.  Yes, 67 cents!  What, you never did that?  The funny thing is it made perfect sense to me.  First of all, I didn’t have enough money to fill the tank.  Secondly, even if I did, why would I invest in gas when there were other things that might come up- the movies, new sneakers, a new hat?  And third and most importantly, all I really needed was gas for the trip.  Right?  I mean, as long as I had enough to get where I was going, what else mattered?  At least right then.  Ah, to be young and dumb, without a care–or responsibility–in the world.

But while getting “Gas for the Trip” is perfectly fine and natural for a starving college student, this habitual shortcutting will only serve to undermine any attempts you make to grow, learn, and develop.  If you are trying to lose weight, for example, parking at the far end of the parking lot might mean you get into the office a little bit later than usual.  But it’ll mean a few more calories burnt, as well.  It might be a pain in the butt to empty the garbage now, so you just pile one more thing on top of it and freeze to make sure the perfectly crafted pyramid of trash doesn’t come crashing down.  That saves you the time and energy of walking into the pantry to get a new wastebasket lining and taking the trash out to the bin, but it’s going to be a bigger pain when you have to clean up this mess later.  My daughter likes to cross out mistakes she’s made on her homework.  Or she’ll draw an arrow, pointing out to her teacher what she really meant to write.  This is the quickest way to show a correction and it’s probably fine and accepted.  But her mother and I don’t let that slide.  We make her erase it cleanly and re-do it, trying to instill in her a pride in not only her work, but in her effort.

It is something I think is fundamental to high achievement.  A disdain for anything less than full effort is one of the core beliefs shared by winners.  In not only the big, most evident, things, but in everything.  On a personal level, it means taking the extra time to make your lunch so that you don’t eat the first piece of junk that crosses your face in the work lunchroom.  It means packing your gym bag, the night before if you have to, so you have a better chance of working out.  It means taking five more minutes to look up that word that will make that email sound better or googling a better way to accomplish that task you’re working on in Excel.  Failure to approach your life this way means two things.  First, there is an immediate impact.  While the belief is that you are gaining in the short-term–and from the standpoint of time and energy, you very well may be–the loss is also real.  In short, you have less gas. (in the tank, that is)  And you know that.  The fact that you took a shortcut leaves you feeling empty inside (pun intended).  Human nature is such that you really can’t fool yourself.  I remember this lesson from my earliest memory of football when a coach once told me, “Only you know if you are giving full effort!  You can fool me, but you can’t fool yourself.”

Secondly, though, the long-term consequences of taking shortcuts are much more damaging.  They do much more harm and are much more erosive, chiefly because of the cumulative impact.  When you take a shortcut today, the ripple effects can be enormous.  Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.  Not only are you not as far down the ‘road’ of growth as you could be, but there’s an even greater impediment.  By not increasing your base of knowledge and experience, you are less receptive, less perceptive even, to future opportunities.  In other words, because you haven’t learned lesson B, you are ill-equipped to learn Lesson C when it crosses your face.  You probably won’t even notice it.

A perfect example is my obsession in learning better and more efficient ways to perform business processes using Microsoft Excel and Access.  Every week, it seems, I’m taking an extra hour (or three) to figure out how to do something that will save a lot of time and reduce the ever-present threat of human error.  This investment in time may not pay for itself immediately– there may, in fact, be a much quicker, rudimentary way to do it now– but by taking the extra time to learn a new process or feature, I understand at a greater degree the capabilities of these powerful applications.  And having an understanding of what is possible broadens my scope of thinking when trying to come up with solutions to future problems.  This can not be understated, evidenced when I am interviewing potential Accountants or Financial Analysts for open positions.  During the process, it’s inevitable that I’ll read or hear “Excel Expert”.  And as was true in my case at one time, they believe that to be true.  They really view themselves as extremely skilled and knowledgeable.  But it’s because, as the old adage goes, “they do not know what they do not know.”  So true indeed.  When they encounter a problem that requires Excel or Access, solutions that include complex or nested functions, let alone macros and VBA code, do not enter their frame of thinking.  By refusing to take shortcuts, by refusing to get “Gas for (just) the trip”, you build upon what becomes and increasingly strong foundation.  And like a savings account, the more you deposit, the more interest you earn.

Another great, although admittedly not really related, example is my wife’s evolution as a football fan.  When I first met her, she’d watch football with me.  But she would just watch it.  “Blitzing linebackers”, “Nickel and Dime Defenses”, and “Clock Management” were terms that might as well have been spoken in French or Russian.  Heck, thanks to my lessons–literally, our first few dates were spent watching my old college game film and my giving her tutorials on the basics of football–she barely understood that the offense had four downs to gain ten yards and that not every player was allowed to throw or catch the ball.  But once she learned those lessons, she was open and receptive to more.  Progressively, she was able to piece together and absorb things such as Passer Rating, Home Field Advantage throughout the Playoffs, and Goal Line Defense.  And now she’s worse than me.  Well, almost.  But only because she continued to build upon her knowledge base.  Even though she didn’t know it, she was filling up instead of getting “Gas for the Trip,” taking the time to ask questions, joining her office Fantasy Football League, listening to Dallas Cowboys Radio with me (yes, I said ‘Cowboys Radio’), and reading ESPN.com and watching the NFL Network, even when I wasn’t around.

These are two examples, as different as you can probably imagine.  The contrast in these two scenarios is evidence, however, that the application of this very simple rule can have cascading effects in your life.  Taking the time to fill up is not always easy. And it’s never easier than the alternative.  But it is almost always fruitful.  So the next time you are at work (or home or the gym, even) and are tempted to do things the way you’ve always done them, even though you know there is a better way to do it, take a step back and think about what you are losing.  Think about the long term costs of the short term (character, knowledge tank) withdrawal.  Instead of focusing on the extra work it might take to research a more productive method or walk across the parking lot, think of the opportunities you’ll be missing.  Not necessarily now, but down the road.  And instead of rushing, instead of taking another shortcut, instead of getting “Gas for the Trip,” FILL UP!

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About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

5 Responses to Gas for the trip

  1. Shelly says:

    Awesome post. For those of us with a little OCD tendancy…I found myself taking out the trash this morning. Thanks Bobby… In all seriousness, if you were looking to motivate it worked.

  2. Julie Manriquez says:

    Bobby, this is fantastic, and a reminder that shortcut (aka “excuses”) will catch up with you in EVERY aspect of life, even at the tank ! 🙂 I agree that a shortcut when practiced quickly becomes a routine or trend, which will take our personal successes and cut them short. Well done! j

  3. Victoria says:

    Lol, your wife cracks me up. She’s always done that at the gas station. Even 20 years ago when $20 would have filled the entire tank she’d put in $5-$10* — just enough to get to school, work and the club. Come to think of it, I don’t think she ever ran out of gas. 😉 When driving many miles in bad weather, some people can safely make the entire trip by seeing just a few yards in front of them at a time.

    I try to do the work up front as you suggest because I know that overall it’s less stressful for me. Sometimes though, I just can’t bring myself to pay attention to the whole board because it can be so overwhelming. For example, I probably should have started that load of wash while I was getting ready for work this morning but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Like your wife, I’m a work in progress. 😉

    Great post, B.

    • bbluford says:

      LOL. Great Point, Vick! I think it’s more of a conscious mindset. If we can realize when we are doing it–allowing ourselves to take shortcuts– and accept it for what it is, a reprieve from always trying to stay ahead of the race, then it’s okay. I believe that when it becomes part of WHO WE ARE, then it becomes a problem. By no means is my wife like that. Nor is anyone with whom I associate- if they were I’d be on them like crazy or they wouldn’t be in my close circle. (You are the average of the 5 people you most associate with; more on that in a later post) But we must all guard against the habit of reaping and not sowing. If we do not sow in the Spring and Summer, we will not be able to reap in the Fall and Winter.

  4. Vanessa Cortes says:

    I loved this post Bobby!!! I ALWAYS fill up my tank! I’m gonna have a talk with Maria LOL

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