The life lessons driving has taught me over the years
I finally learned how to drive a manual shift a few years ago and it turns out that it is not as difficult as I had imagined it to be.
I have come to understand that driving—both automatic and manual transmissions—require the same set of motor skills and common maneuvering chops. After all, the wheels only turn how the person driving the vehicle wants, which is the same case with life’s journey.
Over the years I have realized that there are many comparisons we can draw between driving your car and living your life. For one, driving is a journey much like life, and the varying pace of the voyage offers new lessons to be learned at each mile that we cover. Below, I share some of the valuable driving lessons (read: lessons from driving) that I think are applicable to life.
Buckle up and hop on board!
1. Plan in advance When you are in the driving seat, you have to know where you are headed. It has always helped me to plan my trips ahead of time, start early, and to determine when or how to arrive at the desired destination.
It could be either a panoramic lake in the countryside that you have been planning to see or a trip to a college counselor to discuss your chances of qualifying for a scholarship. Whatever the mission is, plan you must.
While one should stick with a prescribed route, we should not be averse to taking exits and exploring the unbeaten paths along the way that intrigue us. Many times, an accidental destination off the well-worn path ends up becoming our destiny.
2. Follow the rules I learned to drive in a country where they follow left-hand driving and then moved to the US where it is just the opposite. A few years later, I came to India only to switch to left-lane driving again.
Although it could be mind-boggling at first, the constant reminder to stick to lane rules helped me get through the confusion. (And getting five tickets for overspeeding has taught me well about keeping my odometer in check.)
I take lessons from the accidents and road kills that I see on the highway and I have promised myself never to indulge in any kind of road rage, tailgating, or—God forbid—police chase.
In life, we come across a mix of overt as well as unspoken rules that we have to abide by in order to avoid conflicts. We might not always agree with all of them, but playing by the rules will help us live a life that is fair to ourselves and others around us.
Work hard to achieve success, put family first, don’t cheat on your partner, eat healthy, and exercise—whatever you do, remember to follow the rules that empower you.
An exception to this rule is when it comes to creativity, where we must bend or break the rules of conventional thinking in order to create a masterpiece. De tours, you see, are sometimes handy to reach our destination, and knowing shortcuts will mostly do us good.
3. Always keep your eyes on the road When I was preparing for my driving test almost a decade ago, one of the first tips that learned was to always set my focus on the road as far as my eyes can see.
I translate that wisdom as having prudence about how you want to lead our lives. While it is easy to get carried away by the view outside the window, I have learned that taking your eyes off a goal will likely result in disastrous consequences.
Being focused gives us a sense of direction and the clarity and consistency to keep moving forward. Lateral thinking is as important in life as peripheral vision is to drive. It is how we can prepare ourselves for blind spots in our lives—the bothersome, dormant issues that pose risks to our well-being.
4. Be nice to fellow drivers Some will be richer than you with fancier cars and bikes, some are not-so-fortunate, while others will be seated in their handicapped bikes waiting for the pedestrian signal to turn green.
Everyone is equally entitled to the road and we should learn to treat fellow travelers with respect and humility. We should be considerate about stopping for people who need assistance, but skeptical about freeloaders along the way.
Sometime back, I came across a comment on Reddit that said, “If there is one thing that is hugely missing in the world, it is kindness. Give it as much as you can.”
That line has had a lasting impact on me, and now I try to be more courteous to fellow voyagers on the road and in my everyday life. I try to be especially respectful to older people because I believe that they know the road better than me and there is a lot for us to learn from their patience.
5. Know when to hit the brakes Zen wisdom teaches us that stopping is as important as moving. Today’s young-at-heart crowd wants to live a life full of energy and be aggressive about achieving goals. I think we don’t really have to floor it all the time.
Why not pick a pace that suits our purpose and save our top speed when it is required most? Why rush through speed bumps or jump signals?
Every now and then, we should take the kids out for a picnic, have fun freewheeling on the slopes and be calm when the traffic builds up. I try to use those inevitable logjams to meditate on possibilities and hope for the best. Maybe dry your palms or change the music during a long halt.
We must know when to park our ride and appreciate the pit stops that we come across; there is a reason why the brakes are there. In the end, it doesn’t matter how fast you reach your destination as long as you make sure you arrive well.
Enjoy your ride and make sure you stop to smell the daisies on the way.
“If there is one thing that is hugely missing in the world, it is kindness. Give it as much as you can.”
6. Fools have the right of way Driving home from college during my student years in St. Louis, one day I saw a bumper sticker on a car that said, “You never really learn to swear until you learn to drive.” The humor resonated strongly with me, and I believe it's a universal sentiment that drivers all across the globe share.
Many drivers curse and blare their horns in traffic as if that will clear the way. The thing is, we don’t know what the driver in the next car is going through. Blasting horns or revving the engine won’t get us anywhere in situations that are outside our control.
In times like those, it is just wiser to keep our cool and wait for the right opportunity to present itself and move on.
We should be respectful to everyone on the road—even to those who want to zip through the rush hour gridlocks. After all, it is futile to race with people who don’t value your space; I try to let them go before they can inflict any damage.
Ideally though, the right of way belongs to people in emergency situations or to those who are in a genuine hurry to get somewhere. On the road, the priority goes to school busses, ambulances, vehicles with parking lights on, a funeral motorcade, law enforcement vehicles, etc. In life, we should give special attention to those who deserve your love and respect—your spouse, dying kin, a stranger in need, and your friends.
7. Give space Personal space is a sacred place—it is our own private world that gives us an opportunity to think and act freely.
Space between moving vehicles can be even more crucial because the lack of it could be a bothersome distraction and may cause fatality.
Life is not like the bumper car rides on theme parks where you get a kick out of hitting another driver’s car. Leaving enough breathing space between fellow drivers shows respect and ensures enough response time.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic—on the other hand—promotes chaos, constricts freedom, and incites conflict.
The concept of personal space might vary from culture to culture. But in general, maintaining a healthy distance from others yields good bonds. And if there are toxic people in your life who like to throw their weights around, you should definitely keep those relationships at arm’s length.
People who deserve to be close to you will naturally find a way to share a ride in your life’s journey.
8. Rough roads make the best teacher During the Christmas of 2010, I and my two roommates were driving from Missouri to another friend’s house in Tulsa, OK when we met with an almost-fatal accident on the slushy, snow-piled interstate.
Despite my best efforts, our car skidded and struck the concrete barrier on the roadside. Thankfully, all of us came out unscathed, but that incident taught us a thing or two about driving on rough roads.
That’s the thing about adventures—a tumultuous sea makes a skilled sailor. To live our lives with confidence, we inevitably have to go through times that are hard and unforgiving. We all come across situations that test our patience and make us drop to the knees.
Anybody can drive on a beautiful country road, but it takes a good amount of experience to drive through the uncertain highways, darkened dirt roads, or surprising switchbacks.
Winners bring out their best when they are pitted against fire; good drivers become great when they brave bad roads.
9. Don’t listen to back seat drivers I might have averted the mishap in Oklahoma had I not listened to one of my friends in the car who kept insisting on reaching Tulsa the journey despite my doubts about the extreme road conditions.
A driver has a huge responsibility of making sure that the passengers feel at ease. But sometimes, we should learn to say no to others or filter out the noise that doesn’t ring well with us.
The fact is, back seat drivers, don’t know what it is like to be in your shoes.
We all have friends and families who tend to weigh us down with their ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong. I believe we should hear out every piece of advice that’s given to us, be appreciative about it, but eventually follow our guts when it comes to making a move.
It is you maneuvering through life’s path, so we should learn to lead our lives on our terms.
10. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear I have always found this casual safety warning in a car’s side mirrors to carry a philosophical weight.
To me, it suggests that progress is not just about looking/moving forward but taking stock of what’s behind us.
Of course, the message is primarily a reminder about the dangers of causing an accident if we don’t leave enough room for the vehicles behind us; or, if we fail to signal them properly about our next maneuver.
No matter how big the vehicle behind us might be, side mirrors can shrink the field of vision and put them in a better perspective for us to evaluate.
Mirrors are our best friends. They help us reflect back on life and our past experiences shape our future course of action. Our retrospection prepares us for the challenges ahead of us and trains us to watch out for blind spots or dangers coming our way.
11. Have a spare tire ready You know what sucks about driving through a tree-lined highway with your favorite music playing from your stereo?
It is the big pop sound rupturing the rubber rings of your faithful jalopy; a puncture in your rear tire that was balding from driving too much on dirt tracks during your weekend trips to the countryside.
The tragedy can be even more devastating if it happens to you at places far from a city’s hustle and bustle, or if you are not skilled in the trade of changing tires.
Having a Plan B helps you get through treacherous situations that knock on your doors without warning. If you have a spare tire sitting in your car’s trunk, well, you will be back on the scenic trail in no time!
You might get your hands dirty using the toolbox—or lose some time doing the repair work—but you will benefit from the experience and hopefully become prepared for pleasant surprises along the road.
Think of the importance of rainy day savings, health/life insurance, prenup agreement, etc. as the failsafe strategies to help you rebound from life’s messy situations.
The list of things to learn from driving is long and might seem trivial but the lessons they impart are valuable. If we meditate upon them wisely, the lessons learned from driving can work as our lives’ compass.
Life, like a cruise in your car, is full of uncertainties.
It is totally up to you to make it last a lifetime or a few seconds, so savor every moment of your life when you set out on a drive.
And show love and appreciation to your loved ones, friends, and family—because they will be the ones to claim your ruins when you are gone.
This story originally appeared in Thrive Global.