“Assume everyone is stupid, distracted or out to get you,” I told my 14-year-old daughter the other day, as she steered us through West Omaha traffic. We were continuing our odyssey toward achieving a level of comfort with her behind the wheel.
She was driving down a busy street and into a parking lot, and I wanted her to know that danger could appear out of almost anywhere. That guy driving beside you? He could suddenly switch lanes or unexpectedly jam on his brakes. That lady approaching the intersection? Don’t assume that she’s going to yield to you. Don’t trust anyone. Assume the worst, and be prepared for it.
That is exactly how we should drive, and exactly opposite of how we should live, but how often do we live like we drive?
Maybe a friend doesn’t immediately return our call, and we assume that there is tension in the friendship. Maybe our boss wants us to meet him in his office at the end of the day, and we’re certain that we’re going to get reprimanded or worse. Maybe we have a headache, but instead of taking an aspirin and relaxing, we head to WebMD and start researching brain cancer.
We’re often looking for trouble that doesn’t exist, and because of that, we’re making ourselves needlessly miserable. If we’re always looking for someone to pull out in front of us, we’ll never enjoy the journey.
I had to get over this when I first start dating my wife nearly 22 years ago. I had experienced a bad break-up of a four-year relationship the year before, and I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to put myself through that again. Everything was going to have to be perfect, I told myself, before I would ever become emotionally attached to another person.
It was far from perfect. She lived in Washington, DC. I lived in Nebraska. I was a teacher. She was a medical student. Our lives were occurring in different places and following different paths. Getting into such a relationship seemed like speeding on an icy road; there were too many things that could go wrong, but instead of slowing down, I stood on the accelerator, and I’m very glad that I did.
The bad break-up I feared never happened, but for the first year, I drove with my foot hovering over the brake. When I should have been feeling contentment and happiness, I felt anxiety and fear. We shouldn’t live like that.
A modicum of caution is essential to an orderly life, but there is a huge difference between expecting the worst and simply acknowledging its existence. We don’t have to scan our yards for prowlers before locking the doors at night. Likewise, we shouldn’t anticipate failure when we’re pursuing success. Failure doesn’t need that advantage.
Kelly is getting much better at driving. Like her older brother who was taught the same lessons when he was learning to drive, she drives with heightened awareness of the potential dangers she might encounter. That will make her a cautious driver – exactly what you want when you hand the keys to a teenager.
There will be dangers in her life off the road too, and I certainly want her to be aware of them, just not looking for them. When we constantly look for trouble, it seems that we usually find it. Part of life’s beauty is that the same is true for hope and inspiration. Expect it and look for it, and you’ll likely find it.