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Into the Passenger’s Seat
Sometimes, we just need to give up the wheel and let others drive for awhile.
I took Driver's Education (“Driver's Ed,” in teen vernacular) in the Summer of 2005. I was fifteen and had recently run straight through a screen door at a friend's house, so the jury was still out as to whether I had any business taking the wheel. I aced the classroom portion of the course. But my on-the-road skills were so questionable that my driving partner, a lanky redhead named Billy, was allowed to tackle I-440 and I....wasn't.
But I did get to see a lot of North Raleigh cul-de-sacs.
Drivers’ Ed instructors are not known for their warmth. I expect teaching humans with half-developed prefrontal cortexes how to operate heavy machinery would sober a person after a few years. Our instructor was no exception. He skipped the obligatory pep talk and after the cautionary tale about how pulling the dipstick out of the oil while still hot would burn the flesh right off our faces, turned straight to the story of his friend who forget to buckle up and fell from her vehicle onto hot asphalt. “The side of her body looked like raw hamburger meat,” he told us.
This auspicious start to my formal training sucked both my confidence and my appetite. For the next three days, Billy and I traded stints behind the wheel, occasionally catching one another’s eye in the rearview. Though strangers, we forged an unspoken bond over the soul-piercing fear of a jaded government employee's barking instructions. We were two baby possums cowering behind recycling bins, baby birds who'd fallen from the nest, deer leaping across a highway median on pencil legs.
At the end of our purgatorial week, I did eventually earn my learner's permit - which, if I'm being honest, further erodes my already dwindling confidence in the DMV. I tucked my glossy new card into my pink Vera Bradley wallet and slid into the driver's seat of my mom's Volvo, where she sat waiting for me.
Eight square inches of thin plastic gave me unfounded confidence. I drove two miles down Leesville Road and with each twist and turn of the wheel Mom made involuntary stomping motions with her feet. But when I cut my wheel a bit too close to a shiny Mercedes in the Han de Hugos parking lot, she cracked. “That’s it,” she cried. “We’re going home.”
To this day, she insists on driving: even when I pick her up. In my car.
A few months later, my dad picked me up from school and I took the wheel of his silver Honda. Somewhere on westbound 540, a wasp snuck in through the open sunroof and landed on my head. Feeling the undeniable tickle of nasty little legs on my part, I instinctively reached up to swat it away, then felt the sharp zing of either a stinger or little teeth (do wasps have teeth?) on my scalp.
By the very grace of God, we lived, though I imagine we were quite a sight: a silver Honda in the right lane, all windows down, a girl with windmill arms screaming "GET IT! GET IT!", a man leaning at a nearly 90-degree-angle across the interior, grasping the wheel, bellowing back, "The ROAD! WATCH THE ROAD!" as the car drifted onto the shoulder like a big, dying fish.
The next time Dad picked me up from school, he drove.
Ever since I started my business in early 2018, I’ve been the driver, not the passenger.
Actual driving skills (or lack thereof) notwithstanding, I’m used to steering. Planning the route. Changing course in a traffic jam. Checking the tires when we hit a pothole. Remembering and forgetting and remembering again to change the oil (once it's cooled, of course). Dealing with opinionated backseat drivers. A few years in, my legs are cramped and my eyes are bloodshot. I need coffee.
Better yet, I’d like someone else to take the wheel for a bit.
Since I was a kid I dreamed of running my own business. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t close my eyes as I lower myself into my desk chair, fingers wrapped around my chipped blue coffee mug, and whisper, thank you, Lord. My prior life as a litigation attorney siphoned every ounce of my creative energy. I was a juice box that the straw punctured in the wrong place, and all the liquid slowly drained out. I've always known that accepting the challenge of entrepreneurship meant I’d have to hustle for clients, convince myself and others that I could make it as a writer after spending the last decade trying to be a lawyer. But isn't that much better than breaking out in hives every time the phone rings because it might be that crazy pro se defendant who chased me around the courthouse?
In the beautiful tension that underlies every part of our lives, I can be thankful and I can be tired. Some days, I'm desperate for someone to tell me to throw the car in park, hand me a cold water bottle, and drive me to my destination.
But it’s hard to be a good passenger. It's tempting to reach over and grab the wheel, or dish out unhelpful commentary about the route or speed or whether we should pass the slow drivers hogging up the fast lane. There is a unique energy required of the companion, the one charged not with steering, but learning and observing. We need to work both muscles to stay appropriately balanced.
There are seasons for driving, directing, producing, and creating. And there are seasons for riding, taking in, and observing: never passive, always learning. Seasons to give up the wheel and instead, slide into the passenger’s seat, relish the cool leather under our legs, glance over at the driver, and ask, “so, where are we going today?”
And of course, there are seasons that call for surrendering the wheel to a more able companion when a six-legged foe sneaks in and threatens everyone's life.
Looking at your current work/life situation, do you feel like a driver or a passenger? If you are a driver, what would it feel like to cede control to someone else temporarily? What would that allow you to do or learn? How would taking the passenger's seat, literally or figuratively, encourage growth? And if you feel more like a passenger, are there areas of your life where you could take ownership? What would that feel like to you?
An Invitation to You:
If you're in a season of overwhelm, can you practice asking God to give you what you need just for one day? Some days, it may be stepping up to take the wheel. Others, it may mean relinquishing it by asking for (or accepting) help. Consider what it could look like to cede control and depend on someone else for a while.
Food to Try
On regular rotation: Kid-friendly almond flour pancakes by Love and Lemons
Food for Thought
I just discovered Stephanie H. Murray's work and I loved this piece, and in particular, this quote, on the parenting issue that government policy cannot fix:
There is a cultural weight dangling from the yoke of modern American parenthood — one that is probably beyond the government to alleviate. The very same logic of self-sufficiency that rationalizes our anemic family policies — "Don't have kids if you can't afford them" — underpins our social expectations for children, and by extension, parents. It echoes in the grumbling about unruly kids disturbing the tranquility of public life and the censure of incompetent parents unwilling or unable to manage them.
I’ve really been enjoying Luke Burgis’s Substack newsletter Anti-Mimetic, especially this piece:
The older I get, the more I realize that my life is less about what I do, and more about my ability to receive or be affected.
Maybe part of the reason why I’ve been down is because so much of the “cultural analysis” I read seems devoid of love. And without love, everything sounds like clashing symbols. We lack the love which orders the symphony. But the symphony is still being played, if only we have the ears to hear it and the will to tune in.
Finally, I found this piece in Our Sunday Visitor fascinating, re: why this particular person stopped watching The Chosen:
I believe the Gospel is more a world to inhabit than just a message to receive. It matters very much that we find our home there, with and around Jesus. We must learn how to navigate that world. We do not learn how to navigate so well if it has been navigated for us in advance. Even more, that world of the Gospel is to shape the space of our minds and hearts rather than being filtered through a machine that shows it to us. It is a matter of the kind of people the Gospel makes of us.
What I'm Writing
Thanks to Catholic Women in Business for sharing my thoughts on a virtue I am struggling to learn: fortitude.
Until next time, with love,