I left at noon for a six o’clock flight, and the airport was only two hours away. I had plenty of time.
But I also had a car-load of six-year-olds. And making this flight, which was so important to me, did not rank particularly high on any of their priority lists.
We hadn’t even been on the road for five minutes when they made it clear that their agendas were very different from my own: “Let’s stop for ice cream!” one of them shouted from the back seat.
OK, I thought. What’s the harm? After all, we’ve got plenty of time.
So I pulled over at the next rest stop and got them all ice cream.
Ten minutes later, after they’d finished eating, I rounded everyone up, loaded them back into the car, and got back on the road–still on pace to reach the airport with time to spare.
No sooner were we back on the highway, however, than one of the kids urgently called out, “I have to pee!”
“Why didn’t you go when we were at the rest stop?” I asked.
“I didn’t have to go then,” he said.
Well, it’s not the kid’s fault, I figured. When ya gotta go, ya gotta go. So, once again, I pulled off at the nearest rest stop.
This time it took a little longer to get everyone rounded up again. Some of the kids had wandered into the gift shop, a couple of others were investigating the truckers’ lounge, and another one was getting change for a dollar in order to use a coin-operated scale (which had suddenly become of utmost importance to him).
But after about 20 minutes we were all back in the car again, buckled in, and heading back out onto the road–still on schedule, but without as much extra time as we’d had before.
No sooner were we back on the highway, however, when (you guessed it) the kids’ demands started up again: “I’m hungry!” one of them said. “Yeah, me too!” another one chimed in. “Let’s stop for French fries!”
I glanced nervously at my watch. “I don’t know,” I said. “We’ve still got a long way to go, and we’ve barely–”
“We want French fries!” a third kid yelled, cutting me off mid-sentence. The others took up the rallying cry: ”We want French fries! We want French fries!”
“I know you do,” I said, “but we just don’t–”
“FRENCH FRIES! FRENCH FRIES! FRENCH FRIES!”
“OK! Fine!” I yelled. “We’ll get French fries, but this has to be the last stop, OK?”
Maybe this will finally appease them, I thought. And although my head knew better, my hands turned the wheel and pulled off at yet another rest stop.
Sure enough, rather than putting a stop to the kids’ demands, the French fries merely emboldened them. No sooner were we back in the car when one of them insisted that we stop at an arcade. Someone else wanted to pull over at a scenic viewpoint to take pictures. And another of them complained of stiff legs and just wanted to get out and stretch.
I didn’t want to disappoint the kids or appear unsympathetic, but it was getting late. Yes, there was still time to make the flight, but we couldn’t afford any further delays. “I’m sorry, guys,” I said. “We’ve really gotta plow through or we’ll miss the plane.”
At this point, outrage turned to mutiny.
The kid in the passenger’s seat grabbed the steering wheel and yanked it hard to the right.
“Hey, get off of that!” I shouted, slamming on the brakes. I narrowly avoided hitting several other cars as I skidded to a stop in the shoulder. “Are you crazy?!” I yelled. “You could’ve gotten us–”
But before I could finish my words, one of the kids in the back seat reached up and gagged me with a bandana. Meanwhile, four others managed to bind my hands and feet with their shoelaces and pushed me into the back seat. After they’d securely tied me to the headrest, they all piled into the front and somehow managed to drive–one of them steering, another one working the pedals.
They hooted and hollered as they pulled back into traffic, made their way sporadically down the highway, and pulled off for extended breaks and impromptu excursions at every imaginable detour.
Bound, gagged, and utterly helpless in the back seat, I reflected on this bizarre turn of events and realized one thing with utter certainty:
I was never going to make that flight.
Crazy story, right? Well here’s the craziest part of all: It’s all true!
This has happened to me–not just once, but MANY times!
Maybe not in a literal sense, but in every important way:
- I’ve set out with a very clear destination in mind–something that was extremely important to me.
- I’ve allowed myself plenty of time to comfortably reach my goal.
- I’ve given in to little voices urging me to veer off course–rationalizing the detours by telling myself that they were important or that it was “just this once.”
- I learned (the hard way) that giving in to the little voices merely strengthened them, until eventually they were calling the shots, running the show, and “driving the car.”
- And, saddest of all, I never did reach my intended destination.
Get in touch with your inner adult.
I know that it’s important to express your inner child–to play, to create, to explore, and to be spontaneous. I also know that there’s a fine line between between spontaneity and A.D.D.
Left unchecked, those little chatty, demanding voices in your head can lead you away from the plans that are vitally important to you, the goals that give your life beauty and help you fulfill your higher purpose. And it’s simply impossible to reach your goals if you follow every little impulse, whim, or flight of fancy that might cross your mind.
(Joni Mitchell has a great song about a black crow who’s always “diving down to pick up on every shiny thing.” I’m sure that, like the singer, we all feel like that flighty bird from time to time.)
Yes, it is natural to have thoughts, desires, and urges to veer off course–to pursue shiny, alluring possibilities. And yes, some detours might actually turn out to be valuable and worthwhile. But here’s the key:
YOU have to stay in the driver’s seat!
Just like letting six-year-olds drive your car, leaving your destiny in the hands of momentary whims can be disasterous and even tragic. Even if you don’t have a wreck, it’s very unlikely that you’ll reach your destination.
So, the next time you’re on course, moving confidently in the direction of your dreams, beware of those little voices that pop up and say things like:
- Maybe I should check my email (and/or Facebook and/or Twitter and/or Yankees.com, etc.) again.
- I feel like a snack.
- I wonder what’s on TV.
- …(insert your distraction of choice).
Sure, it’s fine to check your email or watch TV, and we all need to eat (plus, you know what they say about “all work and no play”). But before you take a detour, ask yourself who’s in the driver’s seat.
So, when those inner six-year-olds start making demands, you have two options: either give in to their every whim, or simply tell them, “Thank you for your input. I hear you, and I’ll consider what you have to say. But I’m the adult here, and I will decide what to do and what not to do.” In other words:
Listen to your inner children, but let your inner adult do the driving.
How do your inner six-year-olds show up in your life? How do you prevent them from “taking the wheel”? I’d love to hear from you–please feel free to leave a comment!
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