Negotiating Unexpected Hazards

A few weeks ago, there was a confusing mess on Route 66 in Virginia, a highly traveled commuter thoroughfare near DC. The white strip used for demarcating lanes came unglued from the asphalt, resulting in crazy wavy lines that confounded drivers. When interviewed, many reported that they were so befuddled by the wiggly loose tape they nearly ran off the road. I bet!

 

What particularly attracted my attention about this story was the commentary of other drivers who said they didn’t even notice the mess. Now, why might that be, I asked myself? What is it about these people that they were blithely unaware of what was happening all around them? Because whatever it was, this quality, in this situation, kept them safe by enabling them to proceed without fear.

 

As with any characteristic, obtuseness and acute sensitivity have their advantages and drawbacks. Those who skew towards the obtuse can happily plod forward, unburdened by surrounding chaos, in contrast to those who are attuned to detecting the slightest deviation on the radar. The others can better prepare for impending disruptions because they recognize that a change is in motion. In my opinion, it’s the latter of these two categories that risk more on a daily basis because it is they, the easily startled ones, who are vulnerable to overreaction. They are far more likely to be thrown off their game by the smallest of infractions closely followed by an overcorrection. I reluctantly include myself in this category. As obtuse as I can be in many arenas, more often than not, I startle. I am a startler. Are you?

 

Either way, it doesn’t matter, because when our plans get disrupted we have a choice: we either freeze or we improvise. We either feel upset or we shrug it off. We wait for conditions to right themselves or we plow our way through, not bothering to worry about why it happened, only that it did.

 

What sort of person are you? When things get messed up in an unexpected manner, what is your first gut reaction? Do you flip out or reevaluate? Are you slow to recover or quick?

 

What this has to do with re-booting is that we must make similar choices as those drivers on Route 66. There we are, happily plowing along in our lives when BOOM! something we didn’t think would happen, happened. Someone dependent on us suffers a serious health crisis. We lose our job. We are betrayed. We tell a lie. Suddenly, it dawns upon us that our life is not what we thought it would be. The people in it are not who we thought they were…or we aren’t who we thought we were. Whatever the precipitating action, conditions change radically and now we have to cope with the aftermath. So, what then do you do? Do you drive straight forward or do you get distracted by all the wiggly lines? Because, remember, you can’t just stop in the middle of Route 66—you’ll get slammed like a bumper car if you do that—so you have to keep your foot on the accelerator and pray. Are the wiggly lines a sign from God? Will some other overcorrector crash into you, despite your best efforts? Maybe.

 

The ability to improvise under less than ideal circumstances—and I say this as an OCD Control Freak—is one of the most resilient qualities a re-booter can cultivate. Stopping is not an option. You have to keep going, using your common sense to guide you when all your previous markers have disappeared.

 

Years ago in California, I had a great uncle who was an ophthalmologist. One of the rules of thumb he taught my mom was that if ever she found herself driving in fog or was blinded by high beams at night and couldn’t see the road, she should look to the far right hand lane strip to guide her. It’s a very handy tool, by the way; I’ve used it a lot myself. Now, this wouldn’t help our hapless Virginia commuters, but the point remains true nonetheless. Use what’s available.

 

Whenever we get thrown off our game, the best first next step is to rely on a stalwart guidepost—our common sense—to negotiate those next ten feet, and then reassess according to current conditions. You’re not stopping. You’re not not wildly following wiggly lines. You’re not pretending things are as they were. What you’re doing is getting through. How do you manage to stay inside your lane?

wiggly lines

 

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