Reflections on Mackinac Island

by Jennifer Miller on September 8, 2011

in Personal Effectiveness

A place suspended in time offers lessons for today’s hectic life


In August, fellow blogger Becky Robinson enjoyed the same Pure Michigan family vacation destination (during the same week!) as did my family: a day trip to historic Mackinac Island. When we discovered this serendipitous circumstance we decided to write companion blog posts reflecting about our time on the island. You can see Becky’s reflections on the value of perspective at her blog Weaving Influence.

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island

Nestled in the Straits of Mackinac along the shores of Lake Huron in northern Michigan, Mackinac Island is famous for its lack of modern transportation. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, meaning that there are three ways to get around: by horse, bike or on foot. All visitors and inhabitants must arrive via private boat or ferry. A large part of the island’s charm is the way it harkens visitors to a bygone era, ala Somewhere in Time, a movie set in 1912 and filmed on the island at Grand Hotel in 1979.

You might think that a place reflecting life from the early 1900’s would have nothing to offer us in the way of instruction for contemporary business life. After all, today’s technology accelerates our workplace practices at breakneck speed. How could a place filled with the rhythmic sounds of clopping horse hooves have any relevance to our current lives?  A nice history lesson, perhaps, but not much else, it would seem. Upon reflection though, I definitely see parallels between how life was lived then and how we live it now.

Here are four work life lessons learned from my time on this delightful island.

Even the most scenic places get a little smelly sometimes. Given that one of the primary modes of transportation around the island is by horse-drawn carriage, the roads are sometimes strewn with road apples. The smell on a hot, sunny day threatens to overpower the gorgeous views. However, this doesn’t deter the intrepid vacationers of Mackinac; they understand that it’s part of the package. It’s sort of an olfactory reminder that, “with the good comes the bad”. 

From personal experience, I know that even companies listed as one of the 100 Best Places to Work have their share of road apples. Sure, they are great places to work, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t the occasional stink of bad business decisions or office politics.

Know when to change the game plan. Our family rented bikes so we could pedal ourselves to island attractions. According to the guidebook, the interior of the island rises steeply, so we chose a short route. After about 30 minutes of huffing and puffing up ever-increasing hills (mountains?!), it became apparent that we’d underestimated just how steep the terrain was.  We called a family meeting: continue uphill or retrace our path? We decided to cut our losses and walked our bikes back down the hill. We choose a different route, which took us around the flat perimeter of the island. Bonus! The views on this route were even more gorgeous than our previous trek, as the shores of Lake Huron lapped right up to our bike path.

Too many times in life I’ve seen people soldiering on, following the adage, “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a place for perseverance. However, I do think that sometimes we set our sights too narrowly and focus on the one path to success, rather than admitting there may be another way to enjoy the fruits of our efforts.

View from atop Fort Mackinac, 2011

Get to a vantage point that offers you the long view. The highest point on the island is Fort Mackinac. After climbing the 150 foot incline (yes, more hills!) to reach the fort’s entrance, visitors are rewarded with a spectacular vista. You can see for miles in all directions. Fort Mackinac was built during our nation’s colonial times, and this view from above offered a strategic advantage.

It’s much the same in today’s world— leaders who are able to scale the summit to take the long view often see things they might have missed at lower elevations.

Big-name isn’t always better. A trip to Mackinac Island wouldn’t be complete without the requisite tasting of fudge. We sampled the wares of several confectioners; all tasty. We ran short of time at the end of our visit, so we agreed to snag a few boxes on the mainland on the last day of our vacation. As it turned out, we ended up going with a lesser-known entity, the Mackinac Fudge Shop, a locally owned company in St. Ignace. We found the fudge to be just as tasty as that of the more well-known places, and the proprietress was an outstanding ambassador for both her shop and her hometown.

So many times, I see companies opting in favor of “big name” vendors, because they perceive them to be somehow more qualified than a “mom and pop shop”. It’s true that smaller operations don’t always have the extensive capabilities of large organizations, but that doesn’t mean they are any less professional. In fact, I often find that boutique-type organizations are more customer-centric than the behemoths.

Those are my reflections on a thoroughly enjoyable day of history in my gorgeous home state. Thanks Becky, for gamely participating in this dual blog post with me. It’s been fun!


Food for Thought:

Wildflowers line the shore of Lake Huron

Reflect on a recent visit you took to a place you’d not previously experienced . . .

Where was it?

Did you enjoy the experience?

In what ways did it inform your life as it is now?




{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Cori Curtis September 8, 2011 at 8:21 am

I LOVE Mackinac Island! My husband and I stayed on the island for one night last summer and decided to make it a recurring event it was so wonderful!

BTW, very clever use of your vacation to gain business insight. Does that mean we can all expense a trip to the island? 🙂

Jennifer September 8, 2011 at 9:55 am


I *wish* we could expense our trip 🙂 My accountant says “nice try.”

As for gaining business insight. . .it was an interesting mental exercise, albeit one that I did AFTER returning home. All the actual physical exercise happened on the island as we tried to bike our way to the top.

Deirdre September 11, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Oh, you know how I love our Great Lakes, Mackinac Island and my super dooper hideaway on Lake Huron.

Nice post but I must admit, I enjoyed your vacation stories just as much. 🙂 Old family friends owned the Claughan House, a B & B on the island. Stayed there a few times and loved it. Everything about the Island.

Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer September 11, 2011 at 8:56 pm


Yes, I do know what an avid supporter you are of the Mitten State– so glad this post found its way to you! This was one of my first trips that took me to the shores of Lake Huron– I thought of you and East of the Equator 🙂

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