Life lesson from a speeding ticket
My day was off to a rough start – to say the least.
I woke up at 3 a.m., prepped myself for my 4 a.m. shift and headed out the door in a hurry. As always, I had about half an hour to get Downtown – but when you leave that early in the morning, you speed. Or at least, I did. I had gotten away with it for weeks and weeks. But today, my streak would break.
Blazing down Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway, I saw the edge of a cop car a few seconds too late. He pulled out immediately after me, lighting me up after tailing me for a bit. I was getting a speeding ticket, I thought to myself. My first ticket in more than five years.
He approached my window, informed me that he had me clocked at 133 km/h in a 90. I put my head down and handed him the documents he requested and he went back to his car.
“Great”, I said out loud. “Now I’m really gonna be late for work.”
The rest of the day continued with an overall sense of things being out of my control. Some new tasks at work posed a challenge for me and
rather than meeting them with patience and diligence, I met them with panic and insecurity – afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it right. When I got home, I was so beaten up by the day I had that I didn’t cook dinner, I hadn’t cleaned my kitchen, instead, I just wallowed in my misery, determined for the start of a new day.
Then it came.
I left at the same time. I had half an hour to make a forty minute drive. But today, I was determined not to get a ticket, so I wasn’t going to speed. The night before, I set up a TED Talk on my phone to listen to during the drive. I pressed play as I backed out of my driveway and did the speed limit (at times just a few kilometres over) all the way Downtown.
To my surprise, I made it to work within ten minutes of my start time – which begged the question, why did I feel the need to speed in the first place? Certainly being 10 minutes late is better than being on time with a $300 ticket, or worse, in a car wreck.
Months ago, I bought a book on meditation called Unplug by Suze Yalof Schwartz. I picked it up hoping that just by reading it, I’d become this zen, pro-meditation expert who just knew what to do in times of panic. But as it turns out, you actually have to practice meditation to be good at it. Imagine that?
The day before my speeding ticket, I happened to pick up the book in a desperate attempt to get away from the endless tunnel of television I so quickly got sucked into whenever I reached home after work. I actually sat on my porch and read the book. And in the few pages I got through, there was one paragraph that really epitomized how meditation could change the flow of your life. It read:
Meditation allowed me to sit on a park bench, so to speak, and just watch things go by in my mind. It allowed me to take control of pretty much anything I was feeling by grounding myself. No matter where I was, I would close my eyes and allow my breath to anchor me, like that park bench. Everything else--the anxious feeling, for instance, I would give a label to and allow myself to simply observe it, rather than experiencing it.
What this told me was that I needed to separate myself from my thoughts and my emotions. If I felt angry, notice that there was a feeling of anger present, and work on getting through the feeling rather than getting away from it.
After reading that passage, I spent a few minutes in my living room, breathing in and out, feeling like a maniac quite frankly. But after a few minutes, I started feeling my thoughts come and I’d embrace them and let them float away. The whole thing reminded me of blowing bubbles – some came close, some were a bit far, but all came and went in the very same fashion. Nothing lingered.
So today, that’s where I operated out of. That place of calm, grounding and observation. And from the very beginning of my day, the overall flow had improved greatly.
I wasn’t rushing to work in a panic – ultimately performing below a personal standard I set for myself. The same challenging tasks that I had to deal with the day before hadn’t been resolved, and today I’d be in a much better head space to deal with them.
The truth is - I needed to slow down. The past few weeks had felt like life was just passing by and I was grasping at pieces of it trying to hold it all together. But when I grounded myself, not only was I not watching my life whiz by me, I was in control of what was whizzing by me, how I felt about what was whizzing by me and allowing myself to fully process the daily ins and outs of life.
My worst fear has always been letting years pass by without realizing that I didn’t travel when I wanted to. That I didn’t take chances that I wanted to or should have. Or that I didn’t live my life the way I intended to. And if you think about how easy that trap is to fall in to, maybe you too will realize that.
Coincidentally, this was the subject of the TED talk I listened to this morning. It was called “Why 30 is Not the New 20”. It was a powerful lecture that urged people to use their 20s to define ourselves. And for people with kids, friends or family members in their 20s to stop telling the lie that “things don’t matter” because they’re still young.
It encouraged people in bad relationships to get out of them and stop believing that you’re “just wasting time”. It encouraged people who weren’t married to work on becoming marriage material if indeed they wanted a life partner. And it encouraged people to start investing in “identity capital”, a new personal favourite term which essentially means doing things that will get you closer to where you want to be. Whether it means going to school, taking a class, investing in that startup you’ve always thought about or travelling.
Ultimately, I owe that officer a lot. Because when he pulled me over in the wee hours that morning, he gave me a really important reminder. Slow down.