You are in the driver’s seat, that’s what they say – at least in books, magazines and on podcasts. I would not call it a lie but for me it is not fully on point. Let me explain why.
Driving across Swiss alpine passes
Yes, driving across a Swiss apline pass on a Monday afternoon without any traffic does fill me with a feeling of freedom and bliss. The scenery is spectacular and the car easily takes me to my next destination, bypassing villages and valleys in an instant. The only thing to worry about is to refill the tank before I run out of gas. Maybe also the snow, if you are on the road this time of the year. So, why does this analogy for life seem incomplete with me? What is the missing piece to the analogy between driving a car and sitting in the driver’s seat of your life?
Wind, waves and weather
As you can guess from the photo at the top, I know how to sail. I used to sail both on lakes and on the sea and at this point in my life occasionally I still do it. I believe what happens out there on the water and how I steer a sailing boat reminds me more of how I walk through life than driving a car. When I’m out on the water, especially on the sea, it’s a must to acknowledge that nature is so much bigger than I am. Being on a boat always reminds me that I’m not at first place – wind, waves and weather are. However, I get to take decisions based on the circumstances I find myself in. Conditions might change unexpectedly and especially in adverse situations with stormy winds, high waves and a darkening sky – my decisions matter.
A few years ago I was on a sailing trip on the Aegean sea and spent a week with seven strangers on a yacht. This was certainly one of the most uncomfortable vacations I’ve ever been on and at the same time it was one of the most exciting ones. Exciting because sailing takes you into the middle of an interplay between nature’s forces. Wind, waves and weather – pushing and following you at all times. At the end of each day I was exhausted. While it felt impossible to sleep in the tiny cabin due to no air circulation or fresh air getting into the cabin through that tiny window, the energy was always there the next morning to rise and lift the anchor at 6 am, heading out to reach the upcoming night’s cove.
We always checked the weather the day before to plan the course for the following day. At time our expectations were in line, at others not. There were moments without any wind moving us forward and we had to use the motor to avoid being pushed back by the current. Once the wind and the current were so strong that it was a challenge to keep the boat stable and remain on course. It was an up and down for hours on end. Sometimes we caught one mile after another and then there were again those moments where we were absolutely going nowhere as the wind seemed to have disappeared. While we were not able to influence the wind, the waves or the weather, there were other things we were able do decide about:
- The waters we were willing to enter and sail in.
- The course we wanted to sail, adjusting it along the way if needed.
- In case of emergency, there are safety procedures and a radio to call for help.
Especially point nr. 1 and 2 had to be revisited regularly or as soon there was a change in the interplay between nature’s forces. Moreover, when being out there on the water priorities become very clear and focus falls automatically on what matters. Again, usually wind, waves and weather. Besides that, clear and concise communication and maybe a drink at the end of the day.
At the steering wheel of life
On a boat, you directly feel the interplay of nature’s forces. Waves tipping your boat, breezes pushing the boat forward. At least for me it seems to be impossible to name all the different forces at play in my life. On top of that, in today’s world there is a dominant mantra of “being in control”, “being in charge” or in “the driver’s seat”. Whereas quite often this is not fully true and “being in the driver’s seat” really lacks the acknowledgement of what else is at play. On a boat you cannot be oblivious to it as you (at times literally your life) depend on it. Being a good sailor requires you to be humble and at the same time active, fully engaged keeping the boat moving towards the right direction. I’m not sure if you can be “good at life”, but a bit of humility towards life and actively pursuing your dreams, adjusting the plan if needed, does not seem to be a bad strategy. So yes, there is a steering wheel in my hands but I’m also aware that other forces are at play, thus adjusting my course if needed.
Now at the end I start to wonder whether or not I’d feel differently about the “driver’s seat” analogy to life if I’d spent more hours sailing a boat on the sea than driving a car? Probably not … but as with many things, maybe it’s really just a question of perspective.