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10 Life-Lesson Metaphors Gleaned While Teaching my Son How to Drive

I do love a metaphor; and as someone whose first marriage ended with a brick — a literal brick — I’m guessing it’s probably a good thing that I’m able to see the value (and sometimes humor) in a nice symbol.

But as I was recently teaching my son how to drive, it struck me how many metaphors for life lessons emerged — or shall we say, appeared in the road before us — during the process.

I guess it makes sense: We’re tasked with teaching our 16(ish)-year-old children, the very kids with a partially developed frontal lobe and raging hormones, to take the wheel. Literally and figuratively. This is the beginning of a parent’s need to trust — sometimes blindly; of our children’s introduction to weighty matters like life versus death; of ostensibly mundane yet essential tasks like oil changes and gas fill-ups and seemingly counterintuitive ways to drive on ice (turn INTO the skid!).

They need to take the wheel now, so that when they take the wheel of life, they don’t let out a blood-curdling scream, curl up in the fetal position and demand a teddy bear.

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Not that there’s anything wrong with a teddy bear.

So anyhow, being the metaphor lover that I am, I decided to break it down for you.

So behold, my top 10 life-lesson metaphors gleaned while teaching my son how to drive.

  1. Nobody likes it when you ride their ass.

In driving, being tailgated is probably the most claustrophobia-inducing experience for a new driver. In life, nagging and figuratively following too closely (a.k.a. hovering) can make people uncomfortable to the point of wanting to bolt for the door. We need to give people space, whether they’re on I-80 or simply in our lives. And interestingly, that lesson hit squarely home for me as I was teaching my firstborn how to drive. I had never done this before, so my first instinct was to be all up in his grill (see what I did there?), telling him the who, what, how and why with every step. I soon learned that giving him an appropriate amount of space actually helped him make better decisions and understand the implications better. Limited space, sure; but space nonetheless.

  1. Sometimes in life, you’re a little jerky on the wheel; other times, it’s smooth and straight.

When my son started driving, I was astounded how someone could make so many motions on the wheel while traveling in a straight line. I certainly remember doing this as well when I was learning to drive, but it made me think: This is so similar to life. Ever notice how you sometimes feel like things are smooth and even, yet other times, you find yourself slightly drifting from a path only to have to correct (oftentimes overcorrect) to get back on track? The result of both, oddly enough, is usually reaching the destination unscathed. Usually. But as in life, it’s typically easier (and less stressful for passengers) when you don’t drift. A little jerkiness never hurt anyone — gotta keep people somewhat uncomfortable every once in a while, amiright? — but a goal of a relatively smooth glide through life is also admirable.

  1. Changing lanes can be challenging.

As Dylan was first learning to drive, I watched as he tackled lane changes. He was constantly nervous, looking over his shoulder, back ahead, in a mirror, back over his shoulder, etc. In life, sometimes we do this same thing. And it is because change, at its core, is difficult. It’s best navigated when we can look at things from multiple perspectives, without making a dramatic “lane change” with the limited information offered by only one vantage point. But alas, sometimes our other views are obscured, so we have to commit and keep driving.

  1. Most people like to have the map in mind.

My son’s least favorite activity during driver training was when I’d pretend to be the driving test administrator, barking orders about where to turn and when to turn without giving him an overview of the plan first. It was uncomfortable, and his routine question was always, “Can’t you just tell me the destination?” This is eerily similar to life. It’s so much easier when we have the big picture in mind. While it’s sorta trite to mention the whole “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail” mantra — it’s also sorta true. And yet, oftentimes we don’t know the destination, but instead, we can map out some rest stops along the way. Regardless, pieces of the big picture are always appreciated — if not always available.

  1. Turn into the lane closest to you.

On the road, this rule is oftentimes easily overlooked, as it usually requires a more intense turn. In life though, I’d suggest that the closest lane is that classic lowest-hanging fruit. It’s closest to you, requires the least amount of travel, is safest and most easily seen from your driving vantage point. So if you’re looking to change direction, try that closest lane — the easiest change to make — first. You’ll find it’s then fairly easy to change lanes once you complete that turn, after all.

  1. No matter how good you are at driving, you’re going to encounter assclowns on the road.

So just the other day, I — a 42-year-old mom with my mom hair in my mom sedan (no mom jeans, however…thankfully) — was flipped off while driving. I mean, seriously: flipped off. For doing nothing. Nope, I simply paused a moment too long at a signal, and then I’m watching this dude in back of me flip me the bird in the rear-view mirror. In life, you can do everything in your power to be a good person, to make good decisions, to watch out for others and to follow a nice path; but undoubtedly, along the way, you’ll meet people who are just having a shitty day, or had a terrible childhood, or accidentally put salt instead of sugar in their morning coffee. There’s nothing you can do to prevent that, so you might as well just acknowledge it and move on.

  1. Distracted driving is a no-no.

Texting while driving: Not ok. Texting while eating dinner: Similarly, not ok. Our brains best function when we are not distracted by external stimuli. However, in cars and in life, we’re not able to live in a vacuum and only focus on one thing at a time. So it’s important to limit the amount of external distractions so that you can engage as much as possible while you’re behind the wheel. And yes, I’m talking the real wheel or the symbolic one, it should be noted.

  1. Be a defensive driver, but not so much that you’re paranoid.

While driving, you should always assume the people around you might make a bad choice. They might run a light, or fail to signal a lane change, or respond to a text and drift. Sure, they might. But that doesn’t mean they inherently will. If we always assume an asshole driver is going to run a red light, we’d probably never leave the house — and if we did, we’d never go through an intersection at more than a crawl. And that’s just untenable. In life, we should probably always keep the practical thought in the back of our mind that something might go wrong — we may lose a job, a boyfriend, a home, our way — but going through life expecting that to happen will only undoubtedly lead to a bunch of missed opportunities.

  1. Only glance in the rearview mirror.

Nope, it’s not advisable to drive while fully engrossed in the view behind you. Common sense, right? And in life, what’s behind you is important to consider once in a while, but the focus needs to be on the view before you. What obstacles are ahead that you can avoid? What path do you want to take? Where’s the nearest McDonald’s for my $1.08 Diet Coke with extra ice? You won’t figure this stuff out if you’re constantly and exclusively looking behind you.

  1. Every once in a while, despite your best efforts, you might just be blindsided.

As a driver, you follow the laws and abide by the rules and are courteous and appropriately cautious. But it just might happen that one day, mere minutes after you drop off your 16-year-old son at his high school, you’re traveling down the road, heading through a green light — and BAM! Out of nowhere, a douche canoe runs a red light and lands you in the hospital with a broken nose, a liver laceration and enough bruises to make you look like you’ve been in the ring with both Holly Holm and Ronda Rousey during the rematch of the century.IMG_7485 copy

And if this sounds too detailed to be a metaphor, you’re right. Here I am at right, two weeks ago, after a car came from my blindside, t-boned me and pushed me into a light pole.

So yes, I’m speaking from experience.

Interestingly, I wrote the majority of this post before my accident. So as I sat here finishing the post, still feeling the sharp pain of internal bruising and the constant soreness in my knees, I figured this was a good way to conclude.

In life, a blindside or two is almost inevitable. We do the best we can with the information we have, but occasionally, something happens that completely overtakes us without the slightest hint or tip-off.

And I think it’s how we react, post-blindside, that defines us.

For me, I jumped out of my smoking car, stumbled around the intersection in shock while surveying the damage and thanking all that is holy my children weren’t with me, then accepted the kindness of a stranger who let me (the woman with the profusely bleeding broken nose) sit in her car and call my family so my children were all squared away while awaiting an ambulance.

Maybe this, too, is a good metaphor for life: React decisively, assess the situation, take care of your family and accept assistance from others.

Oh, and then there’s the ultimate post-blindside step: Get back behind the wheel. Even if it scares the living shit out of you, you must get back behind the wheel. A little more fearful, a lot less trusting, more bruised and scarred — but behind the wheel is the place you need to be. In the car, and in life.

So there you have it: 10 Life Lesson Metaphors I stumbled upon while teaching my son how to drive.

And yes, he passed his driver’s test beautifully, thank you for asking. Too bad his future car didn’t fare so well, post-blindside.

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Care to share any driving-related, life-lesson metaphors? Feel free to chime in and leave a comment!


About Mikalee Byerman

Mikalee Byerman
Voted "Best Creative Writer" in 2018 by readers of the Reno News & Review, Mikalee Byerman will henceforth be talking about this distinction ad nauseam because it's the first and only popularity contest this former buck-toothed nerd has ever won in her life. She is a humor essayist whose highly controversial blog, Me 2.0, has been featured on the Huffington Post and TIME Magazine's websites. Her writing also has appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal, Southwest Spirit Magazine and Alaska Airlines Magazine. Her debut book — 100 Things to Do in Reno Before You Die — was published last year by Reedy Press. During the day, she is VP of Strategy for the Estipona Group. Oh, and her name rhymes with "prickly fireman," though FYI, she's neither prickly nor a fireman.

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