We were newlyweds of only one year. My husband and I decided to drive twelve hours to attend a conference which would help us start a business. Tensions were high because we couldn’t afford the trip, and our disagreements left us both feeling hurt and misunderstood. Because of a previous accident the year before, I was nervous about crashing again on this road trip, but to him, my fear was a personal jab against his driving skills.
We arrived safely, but I was still upset that he was offended by my fear of crashing. One of the guest speakers was a professional comedian who started to make fun of women with poor depth perception.
He explained that there’s this man at the wheel, and the woman next to him just suddenly SCREAMS out of nowhere. Well, of course the man swerves the car and after regaining some control he looks at her and screams back, “WHAT?!?”
“That car tapped its brakes!”
“Woman, that car is a quarter mile ahead of us!”
I’m thinking, Okay that is NOT funny, but the truth is, I couldn’t hold it in. I had been trying SO hard to stay angry at my husband. I did not want him to think I was enjoying myself, for, in my mind he needed to be punished. However, when the comedian popped the punchline, all of my pent-up emotion came bursting forth and I literally laughed until I cried. I laughed so hard that no sound escaped my lips. My abs curled until they burned. Basically, that comedian described ME, during our twelve hour trip to the convention, and I knew it.
My husband and I continued to laugh throughout the rest of the meeting, and our contentious feelings melted away. We talked about it later, and I reminded him that I was a nervous wreck only because we had both fallen asleep and driven off the road the year before. Road travel made me nervous, period. All the way to the function I had been watching to see if we were getting too close to the shoulder or center divider. Any deviation which brought us any nearer to the edge caused instant panic resulting in a gasp and reflexive grab of my shoulder strap. Any minor swerve which caused us to close in on another car caused the same reaction. And, yes, if a car even a quarter mile ahead of us put on their brakes, I braced for impact.
Even short, local trips on the freeway made me nervous. Rounding a bend was especially frightening, because I’d see the tire and paint marks from cars that had crashed there before. I’d say, “Oh… this must be a dangerous spot; look at all the crashes that happened here!” Of course, I’d prepare for impact, just in case. I’d even look ahead at semi trucks and imagine the horrific wreck that would result if they suddenly cut us off.
Over the years I finally learned to calm down. I reminded myself that my husband didn’t want to die any more than I did, and he’d be careful with or without my incessant reminders. I practiced trusting him, and trusting in the Lord to keep us safe. I also found a visualization strategy which worked wonders: instead of imagining a possible wreck, I’d close my eyes and picture myself tucking my children in bed that night; a vision which presupposed our safe arrival home.
It took me a long time to get my road travel fears under control. Our driving improved as we learned that we stayed nicely in the center of our own lane NOT by looking at the line painted on the road at our side (which resulted in constant adjustments and a jerky ride), but by looking to the horizon where the road was headed. Even if the road followed a long bend, by looking to where it disappeared on the horizon, the car seemed to naturally stay in the center of the bending lane. I discovered that by looking to what I wanted and where I wanted to be (literally, as well as figuratively), I was implementing a powerful method for not just dealing with my fears, but for achieving the results in life I wanted. What a wonderful lesson to learn.
And then one day I realized the lessons from this analogy ran even deeper than I realized:
Ten years later my old fear of driving in traffic was tested to my limit. I was at the wheel, trying to speed ahead at seventy miles per hour to pass a semi truck on my right, with a pile-on and no room for error on my left (due to road construction north of Salt Lake City prior to the 2002 Olympics). The lane was three-fourths the width it should be, and there was nowhere for me to go but straight ahead. I noticed that when I looked at the semi by my side, I started to close in on it. I only realized my error when I’d look forward again and realize how far over I had drifted. I discovered the only way to make it through was to look straight ahead, with my white knuckles on the wheel, and aggressively ignore the obstacles at either side. If a vehicle was going to swerve into my lane, then at least with my eyes on the goal I’d be less likely to overcorrect and cause my vehicle to roll, doing potentially fatal damage to myself and others around me.
This is how to reach your goals. Stay focused. Keep them vivid in your mind’s eye, and don’t let the obstacles, difficulties, disappointments or distractions divert your gaze. Your ride will be smoother. You’ll stay in the lane that gets you there. You’ll avoid collisions. You’ll even deal with sudden or unexpected threats more effectively.
This landmark experience also made me think of life in general. We’re all traveling this fast-paced, sometimes scary road called life, hopefully heading for a glorious eternal reward with our loved ones in the presence of our Father in Heaven. But along this road, there are obstacles that can take us off course or slow us down or cause a wreck, so to speak. The only way to proceed safely is to NOT give the distractions or obstacles your focused attention, even if it’s in an effort to avoid them, because doing so can cause you to drift toward the very obstacles you are trying to evade.
Sometimes when I forget, and look too long at the danger nearby, I don’t always realize how far I’ve drifted until I finally look back toward my goal. I must try to always look straight ahead and keep my eye on the prize. The obstacles will pass, one by one, if I just press forward with full purpose of heart. Should an obstacle swerve into my lane despite of my efforts to stay on track, I will be able to respond without overreacting, and keep my life from rolling out of control.
As one man named Alma taught his son: “The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever … Yea, see that ye look to God and live.” (Alma 37:46-47) Originally published December 20,2009