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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Driving Skills and Self-Esteem

One of the major deals for me when I moved from Australia to the United States was driving myself around. First, I had to get used to driving on the other side of the road. Next, I had to learn to find my way around LA, zipping along freeways and around town, and in certain parts to pretend that I know where I was going so that I don't look like the foreigner that I was.

In a few short months, though, I gained more confidence and no longer hesitated, especially when approaching those ubiquitous four way stops, or when I had to turn at an intersection. During my first couple of months in America, when sitting at the front passenger seat while someone else was driving, I would automatically put my foot down on the imaginary brake pedal when the car turned at an intersection, freaking out and thinking we were driving into a lane with on-coming traffic!

Even as my confidence grew as I drove myself around, I found that I still lacked confidence when someone else were to be in my car. I would inevitably be a little more nervous and felt a little self-conscious.

I wonder if you have had such feelings. Especially when you are in a new environment, or when you are a new driver. Did you ever feel self-conscious when someone traveled with you?

Why is that?

Thinking about this, I wonder if it is because we have developed this almost insane idea that our driving skills are reflections of our character and our self worth is inextricably tied to how well we maneuver the automobile.

I wonder if it is the same reason why sometimes we get upset with other drivers on the road. Why we criticize and tell other drivers off when they make mistakes, or slow down, get unsure of where they are going, or heaven forbid, cut us off in the freeway?

Somehow, when we are behind the wheel, we develop this ultra critical personality and everyone else on the road becomes either a competitor, or a challenge to our self-esteem, and the way we gain self-assurance and confidence is to put every one down.

Perhaps, it is exacerbated by the bumper-to-bumper traffic that we face right here in this multi-parking lot that occur almost round the clock on the gridlock that we call LA freeways. It doesn't help when the amount of traffic daily is probably more than all the traffic that is on the road in the entire country of Australia right here in this mad country called "SoCal".

Still I wonder, why our Dr Hyde comes out in all his ugliness when we are behind the wheel? Why do we forgive less, get annoyed more easily and become ultra critical about everyone else when we are all trying to maneuver our individual death machine from one place to another?

I remember as a younger man, traveling with my family in the car. Everyone was enjoying themselves. My children were a little young then and they were sharing some fun stories and having a laugh. Suddenly, I yelled out, livid at the crazy driver in front of me who I thought did something unbelievably stupid, but now I have forgotten what it was. All I remember now is that I was fuming and the atmosphere in the car changed dramatically. All of a sudden everyone grew quiet. Dad is mad, so let's not laugh, let's not make a noise and let him concentrate.

I realized there and there that
Iwas the crazy one. For I had allowed a complete stranger to spoil my family's fun and enjoyment, and I had allowed someone else to control how I feel. Ever since then, I had tried to give grace to drivers around me, and allow them to make mistakes, to be unsure of where they were going, and to be human as they attempt to drive themselves safely to their destination. It has helped me to be a more relaxed driver and not been as tensed when I am driving. And, it has helped the atmosphere in the car for my family tremendously!

Yet, when I was trying to get used to driving in a completely different environment I couldn't help but felt self-conscious about my driving abilities when someone else was in the car with me. As if how well I maneuvered the vehicle told something about who I really was! How silly is that?