Life Lessons From A Van Driver
For the year and a bit that I drove a van for a living, much of my day involved traffic. You get time to think when you’re alone in a van, stuck in traffic, and I realised that driving on the roads is a great metaphor for life. Not in a ‘life is a journey’ kind of way, but in a ‘winning is not a zero sum thing’ kind of way.
It also highlights perfectly the paradox of wanting.
For many of us, when we are in traffic we are focused on what we want – to get to our destination – to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. And most of us live life like this too. The problem is, when you are pushing to get ahead of the person in front, tailgating the slow car ahead, aggressively overtaking, refusing to let anyone else out at junctions, focused on your desires ahead of absolutely every else it leads to congestion and the whole thing comes grinding to a halt.
Congestion and traffic jams are largely caused by people whose perceive their need to get home for dinner to be more important than the needs of other people who also want to get home for dinner. Or their need to stop in the middle of the road outside the shop with their hazard lights on while they buy a pint of milk, instead of taking a minute or two to park around the corner, is greater than the needs of all the people who are now stuck, unable to get past.
When we are so focused on what we want that we don’t even consider the existence of other people who have similar needs to us, and who are also participants in the same system as us, then our selfishness spoils it for everyone. Ok you might occasionally get home a few minutes early, and if you do you’ll probably be stressed out and a few bpm closer to a heart attack. But you might also be stuck at a junction for ages because other people whose desire to win similar trumps the needs of those around them, aren’t going to slow down and let you out.
But when we stop grasping so tightly, when we take our foot of the gas and slow down, and just become aware of where we are, the dance we’re a part of, and share our peace with those around us, the whole things works more smoothly. If we were each to slow down just a little bit, we could let a car out at the junction and other drivers wouldn’t be waiting for hours. If we were to stop rushing, pushing, fighting and wanting so much to get to our destination at the expense of all other road users, the chances of us getting home early would, paradoxically, be much greater.
When you let go of what you want, take your foot off the gas and start giving a little bit of breathing space to yourself and to others, suddenly your journey becomes easier. You aren’t stressed, and you begin to recognise the needs of those in a similar situation to you. And maybe, just maybe, you offer them the room they need to get where they want to go, too.
By letting go of what we want, by releasing that attachment, the irony is that we are more likely to get the thing we desire after all.