When you think about Drivers Ed what is the first thing that comes to mind? The fear and sheer shock that goes along with your kid being able to drive? The excitement that comes from being behind the wheel and showing your friends your skills? The stress of all of the little things they teach you in the classroom and behind the wheel and the added stress of realizing that is only a very small fraction of what you actually need to know. One thing they do teach you, in small towns in Wisconsin anyway, is how to recovery when you start sliding on ice. In the Drivers Ed car on a back road, while driving at a fairly slow rate of speed, the instructor would pull the emergency break without warning causing the car to slide sideways. He would then calmly instruct you to look where you want the car to go and steer to that location. Starting to slide, panicking in your head while listening to the calming voice, and recovering the car to carry on your merry way brought on all the fear, shock, stress, and excitement you could handle.
Now I’ll be honest, I was not a good driver in the beginning. I didn’t care for it, was not great at it, had a decent sized group of friends and an older sister that could get me where I needed to be so I put off getting my license. I didn’t put it off for a crazy long time, only a year or so max, but I definitely wasn’t a kid who was chomping at the bit of ‘freedom’ with my license. That meant that I spent a lot of time riding with friends reflecting on what we all learned and how they applied it. (I say reflecting now but lets face it I was 16, it was judgement.) One thing that frequently stood out to me was that no one seemed to heed the advice of the instructor to look where you want to go. If there was ice, they looked at the ice and where we could end up, if there was a deer they stared into the trees looking for more, if there was traffic they got focused and stressed by the cars immediately around them. People always seemed to be looking at the problem at hand or worse yet, what could go wrong in the situation. It was more than just looking too. I mean, I know you’re supposed to be aware of the hazards obviously. You slow down for icy and snowy roads, you scan the ditches for deer, you drive defensively in traffic, yup all of that but you don’t have to focus on it to be aware of it.
It will come as no surprise that I think of that advice often, many years later, and how it applies to life in general. There have been far too many times in life that I have been focused on what isn’t working in my career, in my relationships, health, or faith. I have looked so hard at the problem that I missed all of the solutions that are sitting just outside of that one point. Couple with that, many times I didn’t even know where it was I wanted to go (I just knew I wasn’t happy) and you’re really in for a tailspin. I mean, if you don’t know where you’re intending to be, how can you do anything but stare at the problem, hazard, pain, (insert whatever word makes the most sense to you)? In a car that part is easy, the road is literally laid out for you, but in life, you have to pick your own path.
Let’s consider another example a little more recent. Not terribly long ago I was stuck in a job that wasn’t so bad but I was pretty over it. I was working a lot of hours on a job that wasn’t challenging but just had a lot to do and I knew there was more I could offer. Over the years since I had gotten in the groove there I had started looking to advance, not knowing what I wanted to do just that I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be on the phone all the time. I didn’t want to be the recipient of all the changes without a voice. I didn’t want to be yelled at for things outside of my control. I started applying out to anything and everything that came available and made the same or more money than I was making. Getting into those interviews I talked a lot about what I could do in my old job but that it was terrible and why I didn’t like it. Not a one of those people was going to hire me and that made me start to panic and look outside the organization. I was essentially doubling down on my focus on the hazards and the negatives. It wasn’t until I decided where I wanted to be and started to explain how my skills could benefit that role that I found my right next step and was hired.
So yes, be aware of the problems, the negatives, the things you would change if you could but don’t focus there. Just be aware enough to support you in developing your road, where you want to go and how to get there. Then, when you start to feel things sliding, when you hear that panicked chatter in your head, listen instead for the calm voice, look where you want to go, and steer yourself to that location.