Blackout Driving


The other day I was driving to an auction, following behind my husband. Follow-driving is nice. As long as his tail and two boundary lines stayed in my sight, the autopilot part of my brain did the trick. I was alert but not working, focused but not thinking. A few times, I woke up (figure of speech, don’t fret) realizing I hadn’t seen most everything for miles and couldn’t remember getting there. You know the feeling of blacking out on the road, I’m sure (not talking controlled substances here, folks, about which I’d have very different words).

This got me thinking about other times in life that I shut off my brain, allowing myself to check out and coast, for which I actually paid a high price. For instance, upon someone’s request, I once attended a church that made me unbelievably queasy. In the end (and it was snappy), the church leaders called me demon possessed and tried to pray it out of me. (No thank you. Be well, and bye-bye now.)

And once, for a long period of time, I surrendered to a wrong voice simply because it was louder and stronger than mine. As a result, I enabled a lot of unnecessary pain. Ouch, I’m really (really, really) sorry.

I also recently hopped onto an extremely low-carb, Paleo diet train against my better judgment (truly temporary insanity for me, because I’ve poo-pooed it for years). That eating style (a.k.a. torture) took me straight to the feel-crappy, look-crappy, act-crappy, gain-weight station, just like I would’ve, could’ve, should’ve expected. What? Why did I? Oh well. Reset.

I call no harm, no foul on my relatively mindless highway drafting behind the leader the other day; it was a safe way to ease a small burden. And I’d performed due diligence instinctively. I knew where we were going and could hop back on route if my husband led us astray, but I knew he had absolutely no ulterior motive to, say, kidnap me. I also know he has a mega-better sense of direction than me (universal), and the price was small if we were late or lost. There were no red flags or alarms. Blackout approved and appreciated.

Obviously (with a capital O), my alleged demon possession wasn’t so harmless (although recovery is swift from short-lived things that turn funny fast in the retelling). I’m also not proud of the pain I helped cause by disengaging my will around a dominant personality, and I regret the decrease in vitality I caused by disagreeing with myself about what to eat.

Trouble pursued me in these cases because of many mistakes. I didn’t listen to my intuition–such a small voice that’s so hard to trust sometimes, especially when more confident ones sound like they’re spoken through a megaphone into a microphone. I didn’t follow my peace or do all my homework. I gave authority to the wrong person (even when it was an actual authority). I just assumed others knew better and had more expertise. I wrongly assigned good motives. I tried to play nice when tough love would’ve been smarter. I followed trends and the herd. Oops. Live and learn.

The results only served to remind me: buyer beware. Always beware of what leaders (especially ones who anoint, I mean appoint, themselves) want to sell you, where they want to take you or how they’d like to get you there.

I don’t say this out of cynicism, because I’m all for following. We can’t reinvent each wheel by blazing every trail anew. We all have to choose our experts and believe somebody. And I absolutely don’t feel qualified to run my own life solo to its best potential, so I always want to turn to The Expert.

But (and it’s a substantial but), I’ve forgotten at times that I am an authority and expert in my own life, too. I don’t want to abdicate the driver’s seat to any other person–to blackout on my life–when it counts. Life’s road is a straight, quick shot, and we drive it precisely once. There aren’t turnabouts or take backs. There aren’t limos with chauffeurs, i.e. substitutes for our focused attention and intentional decision making as we travel. We are our own designated drivers at all times.

Practical applications? Don’t blindly follow your spouse (we women like to try to be in charge, sorry). Moms, don’t let your kids steer the family ship, but don’t helicopter over their own little driving lessons either. Employees, don’t unthinkingly do everything a boss asks of you. Bosses, don’t drive your employees too hard because you find the back seat cozy. Citizens, don’t assume the government is always right. Viewers, don’t always believe your newscasters. Patients, doctors are human. Doctors, patients live in their bodies and know them, too. Students, teachers can be wrong.

Everyone, everywhere has a perspective and motives that might be pure and good for you, or they might not. The force with which people insist you fall in line is usually the same force you need to use in asking, should I? This is harder to do for some of us personality types than others.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting anarchy, constant rebellion, lawlessness or an inability to submit (that’s the opposite personality bent, and we’ll pick on them another day). I’m simply suggesting that our analytical and critical thinking, instinct and intuition are ours to wield; our lives desperately rely on us to employ them. (Did I mention desperately?) Otherwise, it’s like playing a game of darts blindfolded. We all have blind spots, but choosing to be blindfolded is a different and dangerous game. We won’t hit our targets that way, because no one else’s trajectory is meant to be like ours verbatim. We can’t piggyback our way to our destinies.

The problem with blackout driving, then, is only in its over- or misuse, when its laziness comes with a large price tag or causes a re-route that we don’t want. Even my husband (who, sorry to out you babe, drives like his grandfather) had a highly unusual speeding stint that day and might have cost me a ticket if I hadn’t come to and hit the brakes. It can certainly feel easier to follow a zoned-out path of least resistance until you see how twisty, costly or surging it is. Hop off that sucker before you get sea sick. Find land legs and walk the efficient, direct line to where you choose to go.

Of course, there’s always balance. I know some people who white-knuckle the wheel so hard that they won’t drive much at all. They avoid leading and following. They’re paralyzed. Hyper-vigilance won’t get you where you want to go either.

So, I suggest, choose leaders (one of which should be you when you’re most qualified). Follow with confidence (but not perfect confidence). Submit to authority (but know when not to–mere disagreement or disinterest not being grounds enough, sorry). Heed advice (but reject some). Give trust to people who are responsible with it (but not perfect trust). Go ahead, blackout-follow when it’s a smart or effective use of your energy.

Just do it all (blackout included) with objectivity, forethought, intuition, questioning and common sense. Keep your eyes, mind, heart and gut wide awake for the vast majority of the trip with your hands firmly on your ten and two, not to be a control freak but to take responsibility for the life given to only you. Lose the blindfold.

With Hope and Heart in Hand,


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