If you live on the east side of town, they’ve been hard to miss — the bright orange signs that say “Detour: Thurstin Avenue.” The signs direct drivers away from the street that divides town and campus, where Bowling Green State University’s Administration Building is coming down to allow for a new gateway into campus.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not fond of detours. No matter how necessary they are, they force us to change our direction, reconnoiter and proceed along an alternate route. They may add to our travel time, or take us on a route we didn’t anticipate. But if we travel enough we will run into detours every now and again. As the saying goes, expect the unexpected.

The same goes for life, of course. We move through our days with more or less a sense of direction, but sometimes a detour sign pops up. Both bad and good news demand that we change the way we’re headed. Job termination, an unplanned pregnancy, loss of a loved one, inheriting property: all these force us to find a new way of moving forward. Just when we think we have life figured out, we need to re-group.

But the detour analogy suggests ways to forge ahead. If you lose your job, it’s a chance to reconnoiter: To assess your skills and preferences. Maybe your experience can transfer to another employment area. Perhaps the organizational skills you’ve learned working in a medical office could be used in an employment agency, for example. A career detour can sometimes uncover paths we didn’t consider before.

Sometimes major detours occur in our family lives. A death, a divorce, and new baby: these require us to adjust to a new compass point. Newly single people must find different ways to observe the holidays, for example. A new baby—whether planned or unexpected — means changing responsibilities and sometimes re-thinking finances. We may find ourselves on a path we didn’t necessarily choose.

But alternate routes can be fascinating. That back road you’ve been re-routed to may lead you through some lovely scenery. Your post-divorce Christmas may inspire you to reach out to family and friends you’ve lost touch with. That new baby may bring you joy you never dreamed of. If you hadn’t taken the detour, you never would have known.

In this season of giving thanks, I hope to not only tolerate the detours in my life, but to be grateful for them. Changes of plan and direction challenge us, but they also can bring unexpected rewards. A completely predictable life sounds pretty dull. So if surprises happen, let’s make the most of them. After all, “detour” may be just another name for “opportunity.”

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