Why is it that we have some of the best thoughts, experience the most crystal clear realizations while navigating a steel cage hurtling through space at 70 miles per hour?
Yes, I mean me in my Toyota Matrix.
Some of which is steel. Or aluminum.
(Except that plastic zip tie holding something to my bumper.)
Everyone experiences Inspiration While Driving (IWD).
This time, my IWD was courtesy of Girlyman.
No, not that guy.
One of my favorite bands. And one of their songs, “Easy Pearls.” Specifically, these lyrics:
We dive for easy pearls and leave the rest forgotten
We leave the best of worlds on the bottom
You’re like, “Well, what about that pearl necklace in my bureau? I didn’t leave that in the ocean.”
But I don’t have any such necklace, so you need to shut up and focus on the beauty of those two lines.
Because they basically sum up my entire life.
Alright, maybe not my entire life. But the last chunk of it.
The past few years haven’t really been great for anyone.
Jobs haven’t panned out. That bonus check never came. Joseph Gordon-Levitt didn’t fall into your cubicle.
So, as a natural default, I started grabbing at whatever was within arm’s length.
Which was usually an antique. Or food. Or a bottle of scotch.
But listening to the music, and thinking about the conversation I’d had with a friend earlier that day, I was reminded why that quick fix–that easy pearl–is never quite what I need.
My friend and I had spent the afternoon catching up and talking about unemployed life, and the horrible place we both used to work.
And we talked about the future. The uncertainties. How each of us is going to try our respective hands at making a go at things ourselves.
How we almost have to get super innovative in an economy where baby-boomers (BB’s) are holding onto their jobs longer because of losses they took during the recession. How we’ve both had our fill of the rifts that occur in the workplace when BB’s collide with Gen Xers, Gen Yers, and Millennials, because the inherent power dynamics end up ripping everyone apart Lord of the Flies style.
But we also talked about the good side of things going to shit.
How we’ve learned to streamline. To embrace practicality.
To acknowledge that things won’t be the way they were, and that it’s for the best.
All of these things were tumbling around in my head when those two lyrics broke through my stream of consciousness.
And when I stood on my brakes and slowed behind a massive blue Le Sabre.
Whether it was my mind searching for some thematic thread for my discombobulated thoughts, or my eyes boring into the Le Sabre, I started analogizing my time in North Carolina to a road trip.
So, buckle up, kittens.
Early on in my professional career, I’d set a Point B on my life’s TomTom: Professorship.
Nothing was going to get in my way. I’d have a PhD by the time I was 30, a house, a husband, and a three-legged, diabetes-afflicted Corgi rescue named Chunk.
But after undergrad was over, I merged back into academia too soon, and got redirected into a cesspool of angst and anxiety with academics ill-equipped to deal with other people who didn’t fit a particular mold.
And gave up listening to the drone of “recalculating, recalculating, recalculating” echoing in my noggin.
And just kept going, pedal-to-floor, until I ran out of gas.
After a tune up and complete rebuild, professorship was a distant dot in my rear view. And I found myself traveling bumpy roads to make things work in rough economic times.
Everywhere I looked, people were stalled out. No one had the necessary parts they needed. Everyone was running past empty.
So, I made do with the little I had, and channeled The Little Engine That Could.
Then, when that “Maintenance Needed” light interrupted my “I think I can, I think I can” chanting, I had an out. Which a lot of people didn’t.
And I took it, because it was that oh-so-welcomed gas station in the middle of a desert.
But then, I got trapped there.
Stuck in some sort of bizarre mirage where everyone acknowledged that it was an absurd illusion full of delusional people. But no one left.
Until we had to.
Get lost in all of that?
Yeah, I sort of did, too. But you get my gist.
As every driver knows, it’s only a matter of time before someone cuts you off, or you get behind a wide load.
And things slow down. Sometimes, you idle. Sometimes, it’s stop and go, stop and go, stop and go until you want to pull out your hair.
Sometimes, there’s a break in the logjam, and you blow through, cutting off time and covering a lot of ground. Inevitably, though, you come to a screeching halt.
Or swerve off the road.
Or have an accident.
And things stop.
And you think, “How did this happen? I was being so careful.”
And sometimes, we’re just coasting along on cruise control, listening to our life play on like a record, and we don’t even notice that we’re slowing down for that big rig. And it’s not until others start blowing past that we realize, “Damn, I’ve been going ten miles under the speed limit for the past 55 miles.”
Or you hit a pothole and are jarred back to reality.
Back to the fact that roads can be easily traveled. But that everyone has to go their own speed. And that sometimes we’re all stuck in the same traffic jam.
That there will always be stretches where we can speed, and stretches where obstacles lie around every turn.
But vigilant drivers can avoid a pile up by recognizing the warning signs.
And can motor on.
I guess the reason why those lyrics switched me into uber reflective mode was that I realized that I’ve just been going for what’s easy. What’s familiar.
I haven’t taken a leap into murky water.
I haven’t gone deep.
I’ve just barely gotten my head wet.
So, whether I have to come up for air a few times before going for it, I’m planning to reach for what’s just beyond my grasp.
Stretch myself a little bit more.
Just to prove to myself that I can reach that treasure at the bottom of it all.