The Three Critical Life Lessons I Learned from Driving a U-Haul Truck

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I was a highly reluctant minivan driver so when we loaded all my daughter’s college belongings into a U-Haul, I braced myself. I am confident but cautious on the road and in addition to this vehicle being the largest thing I had ever driven, when I took my seat behind the steering wheel, I did a double-take. As I went to adjust the rearview mirror, I realized that this fixture is essentially ornamental in a truck as there is no view out the back! Would I not change lanes over the course of the 7-hour drive? And what about merging? This was going to be interesting. 

One of my life’s philosophies has always been that if loads of other people can figure something out, I should be able to figure it out too. Loads of people drive U-Haul trucks every day, and as the mother of two daughters, I never wanted to leave them with the impression that there is something they couldn’t do or should be overly afraid to do… So smile on my face and foot on the gas… off we rolled.  

The ride was a good time with my daughter, as our trips always are. We sang, we laughed and we ate… and she lovingly supported me in my moments of anxiety as I put the truck into reverse, praying that I was interpreting the backup camera view correctly. And she was very good-spirited when we parked our oversized transport in remote parking spots, as far away from any other vehicle that I could. But as I observed myself throughout this experience, I realized that driving this truck offered powerful lessons for navigating life. 

Lesson #1: When you can’t look back, you become much more intently focused on being exactly where you are. 

Like most safe drivers (hopefully), I pay a lot of attention to my surroundings. I use the side mirrors, the rear-view mirror, and I scan the scene on all sides. Because I can see in every direction, my attention is free to multitask… take in the scenery, adjust the music, people watch, etc. But during the first couple hours of our trip, I was so fixated on getting acclimated to my new driving experience that I had no spare bandwidth for the scenery or for taking in anything more than what was necessary.  Instead, I simply remained in the slow lane and focused on being fully present and remaining in the lane I was in. Although people were passing me, there was something incredibly freeing about just moving forward at a steady pace, without trying to pass or keep up with others, and without worrying about what was going on behind me or so the side of me. 

As I reflected upon that moment, I realized how much of our lives we spend distracted by what’s happened in the past, what’s happening in other people’s lives, wondering if we should be ‘changing lanes’, or being enticed by shiny objects. What if, like a racehorse, we put blinders on to block out all the distractions? What might be different? How much more present might we feel? How much more focused might we be? Now, weeks after that ride, there are moments when I notice how far out of the present I am being pulled and I metaphorically put my blinders on. Sometimes… or maybe much of the time…. I don’t really need all the rear views and side views. Instead, I can allow myself to enjoy just being present and looking only at what’s right in front of me at the moment. 

Lesson #2:  We need both the micro and the macro perspective to navigate effectively in the world. 

Not only is there no functional rear-view mirror on a truck, but the consequences of a ‘blind spot’ are massive when you are the bigger vehicle on the road. I was so worried about changing lanes early on; what if I missed a car driving in my blind spot! I felt a bit like a giant walking through a China shop. Ok, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but unlike a professional truck or bus driver who actually receives training, I had about 90 seconds to get familiar with how my new transport worked and no instruction at all. Once I accepted that I would need to change lanes at some point. I looked more carefully at my side-view mirrors. It took me a few minutes to understand what was happening. On a truck, the side view mirrors are split in two. The upper portion of the mirror provides a broad view of what is happening around the truck and helps to compensate for the lack of a rear-view mirror. The bottom portion, however, focuses on what’s happening all along the side of the truck…what is in the blind spot.  

In other words, a wide view and a narrow view. 

I loved this! Two totally different perspectives and both are essential for navigating safely on the road. 

As I continued on my drive, I thought about times when I was so concerned about figuring out where my life was going, how I would get there, what I wanted to have happen, that I was blind to people, relationships, and moments that were right in front of me.  And then there are other times when I have been so myopically focused on an incident, problem, or need that I lost sight of the big picture and what was really important. 

What driving in the truck that day reminded me of is how important it is to hold space for multiple perspectives. Whether those perspectives represent the wide view and the narrow view or they represent different ways of seeing things, a world in which we all look at things from multiple perspectives feels like a safer place to be. 

Lesson #3: Bridging the gap between discomfort and comfort is typically easier than we think. 

We are a culture that dislikes discomfort. When I first got behind the wheel of the U-Haul, I was wildly uncomfortable.

 “This is ridiculous,” I thought. 

“This feels weird.” 

“How am I supposed to see?” 

“Where do you put the gas?”

Like many people, my initial feelings of discomfort unleashed a string of criticism and judgments. Something feels unfamiliar, it must be strange, weird, even wrong. I observed myself devolve into this state. But if you had then gained a glimpse of me about two-thirds of the way up to the college, everything was fine. I was changing lanes without a problem, merging, adjusting the music, etc… The gap between my discomfort and my comfort was about 3.5 hours and 200+ miles! That was it. 

As a coach and professional trainer, I help people navigate change. One of the most important things we talk about is ‘getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.’ I have come to realize that this process is an essential life skill. Change has always been inevitable, now it is rapid as well. We live in an unpredictable world. For strategies in closing that gap between discomfort and comfort with more grace and ease, tune in to this week’s podcast on Courage to be Curious with Adina Tovell. 


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