What a driving lesson with my dad taught me about balance

During my junior year of high school, I was like a pot about to boil. I was the youngest in my class by a full year, having skipped a grade early in my childhood. This meant that by the time I was turning 16, I’d become predictably anxious about getting my driver’s license.

My parents, long aware of my impatience (tipped off, I presume, by the countdown calendar on my door), graciously allowed me to begin driving on the very first day it was permissible by law.

I got behind the wheel; my dad buckled himself into the passenger seat (where he probably blessed himself), and then began issuing directions.

“Turn the radio off. No, all the way off.”

“Adjust your mirrors. Can you see what’s behind you? Are you sure?”

“Hands at 10 and 2, please. Now don’t move them.”

“Only use your right foot, ok? Pretend the left one is glued to the floor.”

And so on.

I remember it all coming at me pretty fast, a torrent of safety guidelines from a justifiably concerned dad about to risk his life for his child’s happiness.

It took a while, but at some point we FINALLY pulled out onto the road and got rolling.

Out there on the open road was where he shared the tip I’ve thought about most often in the years since.

My dad told me to fix my eyes on a spot way down the road and steer toward it.

When he gave me this advice, I think he was basically trying to keep himself from getting carsick. He was searching for the words that would smooth out my steering, and believe me when I tell you that this approach actually works.

Here’s why.

If your eyes are focused on the piece of road just ahead of your bumper as you drive, you overcorrect for every tiny curve or bend in the road. 

The faster you’re going, the more pronounced this becomes, with the wheel bobbing back and forth as you attempt to keep your car centered between the lines. You’d better have that motion sickness bag ready.

But, if you shift your eyes further down the road, paying attention to where you’re going, instead of where you already are, something amazing happens.

You automatically stop trying to correct for every little imperfection in the road. You don’t even notice them anymore. Your focus is on where you’re going and that straightens out your steering. You start moving in one sweeping arc instead of a thousand little wiggles.

It’s smooth. It’s graceful. 

And it works in life, too.

That’s why, long since shifting gears and changing lanes have become second nature, this one lesson in particular has stayed with me. It’s guided far more than just my hands on the wheel.

Fix your eyes on a spot down the road and steer toward it. 

We don’t instinctively do this, do we?

Usually, we focus on what we have to do today or tomorrow, (over)reacting to what’s going well and what isn’t, darting around like little hamsters in a cage. It’s not pretty.

We’re here, and there, and everywhere, scrambling around trying to keep it all straight.

But when we get clear about where we’re trying to go, and we fix our focus there, we can steer toward it gracefully.

We can make smooth adjustments instead of jerking ourselves around. It’s a far better way to live.

I can’t even tell you how often I remind myself to set my eyes further down the road by asking

“Will this really matter in the long run? Am I overreacting? Could I lean into this curve?” 

Every single time, I find that I’m better off when I take a longer term view and stay focused on where I’m headed, confident that I can steer my way there.

Smart guy, my dad.

Give it a shot.

Fix your eyes a little further down the road and get ready to enjoy the ride. 

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