Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Life in a Driver’s Seat: The Difference between Driving and Being Driven

Car Cupcake
Few of us are fully in control of what happens to us, whereas those among us who think they are in complete control of events are deluding themselves. Although there is a concentric circle that involves what is within our control and responsibility, most of what happens to and befalls upon us ends up falling outside of it. That said, regardless of the level of control we have in any outcome and situation, it is important to not only be aware of this but to translate it into concrete and tangible actions, whenever possible.

To give a concrete example, although some of us may have had the foresight to predict an upcoming pandemic, in most cases, our actions would not and could not have prevented it from occurring. If influential global leaders were not capable of stopping or preventing it, much less would we have had a chance! On the other hand, how we deal with situations like these, the narrative we build on and around it, whether we take it seriously and take action, whether we do our utmost to protect ourselves and our loved ones, the extent to which we embrace science versus misinformation is, to a large extent, within our grasp and hold.

Put more globally, we cannot stop the tidal waves from happening, but we can learn to swim and surf with them. Suffering is part and parcel of life. Yet we can do our best to not create additional and often unnecessary layers of suffering, and it starts by trying to deal with setbacks and tragedies in calm and collected ways. And when it comes down to it, those who view themselves in control and with agency will fare much better and will end up coming out more unscathed versus those who merely see themselves as impotent victims of fate and circumstance.

It is a vicious cycle. When you keep telling yourself that you cannot do something or when you are convinced that bad things will happen to you or that your health will be compromised no matter what you do, the feared tragic outcome would indeed manifest and perpetuate itself mainly because of your unwillingness to act and by viewing yourself as a victim instead of an agent. In many ways, our belief system goes hand in hand with our immune system.  

This can be summarized in the terms of spectating life versus actively engaging in it. As someone who has been watching the game of life unfold from the sidelines for most of my own life, the realization that I can have a say and the strength and power to guide certain trends has been enlightening and liberating, to say the least. Although certain external events are and always will be outside of my control, at the very least, it is within my reach to change and regulate my inner reactions to those external events.

Put differently, I would rather be in the driver’s seat than being driven. In fact, we do not realize to what extent we are being driven by not only the outside but also by currents and trends emanating from within ourselves. If you are a workaholic and a perfectionist and always give it 110%, you may know what I am alluding to. 

If you work yourself down to the bones by not even taking Sundays off so that you are on the top and ahead of the game and of others, then you are not driving but you are being driven and are taken for a ride by your job, which you then see not only as a source of livelihood but rather as the bane and crux of your existence. No one can, nor should they give a 110%. It does not mean that you should not put in extra efforts or go the extra mile once in a while. It simply means knowing your limits even - and especially if - you are aiming sky-high.

Now some might see and define the demonstrated work and effort as actively doing something and not being a spectator to life. But this is a delusion. Life itself will pass you by as you are engaged in and committed and bound to the myth of perpetual work and the driving false narrative that time is and can be money. It is more a case of keeping yourself occupied by artificially throwing yourself onto the sidelines because you do not want to face life or are living your life under the misleading impression that you do not have what it takes to live life to the fullest.  

We can compare it to watching sports on television. You are seated in the comfort of your home watching events unfold in front of your eyes. You believe that you are part of the action, hence your shouting at certain bumbling players or your gleeful joy when your team scores. At least, if you were in the stadium, you would be doing so as part of the crowd, but on your couch, your influence on the outcome of the game is negligible and non-existent.

The same way when we stay or shy away from others or bury ourselves in our work like an ostrich’s hand in the sand, this is and cannot be life. It is a numbing device that is not much unlike taking pills, drugs, or alcohol to dull the senses. Addiction can take different forms, while work, money, and perfectionism can and often do fall under its grip and purvey and within addiction’s tentacles.

But what we want to do is to get back into the game of life and start playing the field. The first step would be the realization that it can be done and that we are worth being on the field. We need to overcome our diverse fears: that we are not good enough, that we cannot handle it, that it will not make a difference, alongside various other lies we tell ourselves to avoid facing any types of discomfort, an unease that would eventually transform into growth and happiness. 

Being a spectator or being in the passenger’s seat tends to be safe or at least it gives the impression that it is so. By sitting on the fence or being on the sidelines, we think we can avoid making decisions or taking a route. But indeed, not doing something is, in itself, a choice! We choose to spectate and be driven, and we give away our say and power in the process.

If we look at it from the angle of accountability, we can be equally responsible and accountable for what we say or do as well as by what we do not say and do not do in any given situation. Not to say that there are times where doing nothing may be the best action to take. In some cases, a measured, patient, and waiting response may be better, more reasonable, and more fruitful than a rash impulsive one. This is best exemplified in the Chinese act of non-action called Wu Wei, where you wait things out and let the clouds of thunder pass over towards a clearing.

This is the type of doing nothing despite feeling the urge to do something, and many may experience this restlessness during states of meditation as we mentally, emotionally, and physically struggle with sitting still and “doing nothing”. Sometimes spectating when we want and wish to act may be taxing and demonstrate a tremendous act of will, discipline, and reason, but it might be the best thing to do under the circumstances.

Nonetheless, we want to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to our lives. We want to be the one who calls the shots and makes the decisions in our life, including ones of non-action. We are fully aware and conscious that the paved roads may limit us in where we can go. We also know that there could be traffic that would stop us from going faster than we would like to. We also know that there are impatient drivers and those who consistently engage in acts of road rage. We know that we have to wait for the traffic light to turn from red to green before we can advance further to not cause or risk having accidents.

The main thing is that life should be experienced not as a spectator nor on autopilot but as a person in the driver’s seat. We should be doing the driving. We can stop and go; we can take our time; we can take the scenic view. We can drive carefully or accelerate up to the allowed speed limit. We can take breaks, or we can push ourselves to drive the extra mile, but we need to ensure that we give ourselves and our cars the rest we need and deserve. We can save up to upgrade features of our car and do a paint job or change it for a better model. We can take out insurance on it. We may opt to sit on the passenger’s seat for a bit and let others drive us around only to take over the wheel again after a while.

Indeed we are the ones behind the wheel on this road of life. We should live life and be in control and not be driven, whether it is the voice in our head egging us on or whether it is our work, job and family demands pushing us hither and thither. When push comes to shove, we are responsible for all that we do and all that we do not do, but the more we engage in living life, the happier, more satisfied, and more experienced we shall become in the process. The bottom line is that driving and life gets better and thrives on practice.