• One Minnesota Writer

52 Ways to Shift Your Focus

Shift in Focus #20: Teach a Kid to Drive

You know how it feels to get comfortable with something. Once you’ve mastered a routine, you stop seeing all the little details that go into it, the preparation, the start, the middle, the finish. It just melts into one thing. Going to work. Going to school. Writing a blog post. Doing the laundry. Driving.

Comfortable can mean careless. It can mean bored. In a rut. All that comfort can be bad for business and for attention spans.

So, if you’re feeling way too comfortable with your daily routine, one way to shift your focus is to teach a kid to drive. Okay, I can sense the hair-pulling sort of anticipation this suggestion might bring up: images of near-misses, brakes applied too late, mailboxes sideswiped, and frantic chants of, “Stop, stop, stop!” But I think coaching a beginning driver, for those of us who drive all the time, is the perfect thing to jolt our sense of how we move through our days and what we notice, what we miss.

I came to this conclusion for a couple of reasons. One, there are those days when my head is so full of what I’m working on that my driving is less attentive than it should be. I’ll stop at a stoplight and be surprised at where I am. That shakes me up a little and I refocus my attention. The second reason, though, is a big one: helping my teenaged daughter Abby practice her driving has clarified just how much I do automatically. As she eases out of the driveway far more slowly than I do, I see how none of this is habit for her. It’s awkward to turn to look through the back window while one hand remains on the steering wheel. It’s counterintuitive the way the steering wheel gets turned in the opposite direction when the car is moving backwards. It takes a while to figure out the right place to stop moving backwards and put the shifter into “Drive”. And that only gets us from the garage to the street in front of our house, a task that I do without really thinking.

Abby is careful. She doesn’t love driving. She’s not yet finely tuned as to where the car’s body ends. But she gives herself room. She thinks about almost every little detail. For the ones she misses, I’m right there to remind her. I’m deconstructing the whole practice of driving as I try to coach her.

I remember when I learned to drive my father told me to not only see what was in front of me, but to notice what was going on two blocks ahead. Things change fast on the road and we need to be able to anticipate most of it while making sure we’re ready for the unexpected: the kid that chases a ball into the street, the dog that finally breaks the leash, or the deer that bounds out from the side of the road at dusk. That was some of the best advice he ever gave me, and not just for driving. That was advice for life. Notice what’s going on around me, but look down the road. Get ready for the next thing, whether I can see it or not. Don’t get so comfortable that I miss things.

Time to practice it all again, pass it on to my own kid. I can almost feel my father riding along, whispering from beyond to use the seat belt, comfort be damned.

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