• Knowing why it is I am doing what I am doing
  • Recognizing how the interaction of underlying factors and assumptions impacts our work
  • Asking questions to clarify “the why” beneath a request

Anyone who has read my past commentaries knows how much I love college football. Additionally, you all know how much I like to include pearls of wisdom spoken from some famous coach. The sayings I share always inspire me to be a better person, husband, dad, or employee. What most readers don’t know about me is that I absolutely LOVE the mountains, cold weather, and the snow. In fact, all but one of my last six vacations were spent in various mountain ranges across the country. 

I learned two very important lessons on our most recent trip to the mountains of Whitefish, MT. First, 4-wheel drive doesn’t always work. Which I conveniently ignored my dad’s almost prophetic warning until we all ended up in a precarious situation in the middle of a national forest. Second, just because a snowmobile can go 80 mph doesn’t mean that you should go 80 mph (I’ll explain in more detail a little later).
I bet by now all of you are on the edge of your seats wondering what “precarious position” we found ourselves in while vacationing in the mountains of Montana. Maybe we were stuck in a blizzard, maybe we went rock climbing and our equipment failed, or maybe I fended off a mountain lion to save my family while riding snowmobiles on the backside of Big mountain. All of those would be some great guesses and a couple of them are somewhat true, but none of those things happened to us on this trip.
On the way back from driving up to the U.S.-Canadian border, we decided to drive through a part of a national forest that we passed earlier in the day. While driving down the deserted snow-covered road, we came across a sign that said Blue Lake with an arrow pointing off to the right. I made the right turn without giving it a second thought. After all, we were in a 4-wheel drive Suburban…what could possibly go wrong? It became abundantly clear the further we drove down the road, well not a road, more like a snow-covered trail, that maybe we shouldn’t have taken the scenic road to the lake. At this point we were committed because there wasn’t a place to turn around. 
We finally arrived at a clearing that would allow me to turn around and get my family to safety. It was then that I did what any red-blooded 45-year-old would do. I whipped the wheel hard left, hit the gas, and did a donut in the snow. Everyone was laughing and enjoying the moment while holding on for dear life. It was the second donut that got me, I mean us, into a little bit of trouble. By trouble, I mean that I buried Sherman the Suburban up to both axles in knee-deep snow. To further complicate matters even more, I hit the gas thinking I could get us unstuck. Instead, I buried us deeper into the snow. It was at that very moment that my dad’s words rushed back into my mind about 4-wheel drive not always working.
I heard my dad issue the casual warning about 4-wheel drive not always working before I turned off the main road. I even heard his warning when I turned onto the snow-covered trail to the lake. What I failed to understand at the time was the reason why he uttered those words to me in the first place. My dad could have gone into more detail to help me figure out why he said that in the first place. He could have given me some insight into his own personal past experiences with 4-wheeling. Maybe I could have avoided the fiasco all together if he would have helped me to realize the situation I was getting us into by relying too heavily on the capabilities of Sherman-the-4-wheel-drive-Suburban. Maybe my dad just thought his son was old enough to know better and thought he didn’t need to expound on his comment to me. 
But, to be perfectly honest with everyone, I’m not sure it would have mattered what my dad had said to me at that moment on that day. My goal was to have fun, explore Montana’s beauty, and to make as many memories as I could with my family. Obviously, the story has a happy ending because I’m here telling everyone about our awesome vacation, but I digress. After an hour of digging Sherman out of the snow and with my dad behind the wheel, we were headed back to the main road and back to the cabin to warm up and laugh about our adventures that day.  
As E-rate guides, we hold ourselves as the experts in the E-rate program. Some of us go a step further and become certified E-mpa members. Our clients have an expectation that we will help them receive funding from their Form 471 application, keep them in compliance with all the program rules and help them avoid any number of pitfalls that are out there for schools and libraries. To honor our commitment to them, we need to ensure that we ask all the appropriate questions so we understand the who, what, when, where, and why of their individual situations. Making assumptions on our end could cause our clients to miss out on receiving much-needed funding for their school or library or cause unnecessary delays in the processing of their application.
How does this apply to you and me, today? (Other than the obvious lesson that not all roads are meant to be traveled.) One important application for me is the significance of asking questions to clarify “the why” behind my dad’s timely warning. The next time you find yourself on the receiving end of some pearls of wisdom, be sure to take the time to dig a little deeper to understand the reason why. Who knows…understanding the reason may just keep you from getting stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere, Montana, one day.
I bet you thought I totally forgot about the second point that I mentioned earlier in my commentary. If you will remember I told you that I would explain this point in more detail later. In case you have already forgotten, my second point was about not driving a snowmobile 80 mph just because it can go 80 mph. While that may be sage advice, I didn’t follow it that day. As you can tell I am a kid at heart and well…driving a snowmobile at 80 mph was just plain exhilarating. The lesson I learned here is to hit the throttle and hang on. You only get one life, so live it to the fullest doing the thing you enjoy with the people you love.
Key words and phrases
Comprehend the information; Insight into the circumstance; Discern the meaning; Realize the importance; Grasp the significance; Perceive the implications; Make sense of the facts; Realize the situation
Opposite terms
Ignorance; Lack of understanding; Failure to comprehend; Miss the point
GuideMarks – Distinguishing Characteristics of FFL E-rate Guides

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