just let go

10:37 AM

In Russia we don't have snow plows, at least not when I was growing up. So in the winter it was a "drive at your own risk" situation. And drive we did, almost every day. And so it was inevitable that over the course of the season our car would get stuck or spin out multiple times. My dad always used these moments as learning experiences and he taught me early on how to handle a spin out on ice or snow with a car. He said that the key is not to fight the car, to trust it and just let the car do what it needs to do, fighting it only makes it worse. Watching him do this over and over again helped to ingrain this concept in my mind. It stuck with me long after we left Russia and my parents weren't my chauffers anymore.
The first time I got the chance to experience this on my own was five years ago during an especially harsh winter in the Shenandoah Valley. I was going down a hill that was completely covered in black ice and in an instant I felt the car begin to careen. Instinctively I grabbed the wheel tighter and tried to maneuver it but the car would jolt in the complete opposite direction with each of my turns. Suddenly I remembered my father's words from so many years past, inhaled deeply, closed one of my eyes and let go... It was one of the scariest things I've ever done but boy was he was right. I let go and within a few seconds the car smoothly slid into a snow bank and stopped. I opened my eyes, took another deep breath and stepped out of the car to survey the damage. Behind the snow back, completely camouflaged was the thick trunk of a tree. There was a small dent on the bumper and a crack in the light. I exhaled. It could have been so much worse.
I've been thinking about this a lot as an analogy for life lately. All too often we think that we have a certain path carved out for us, we plan it all out perfectly. We take all those "aptitude quizzes" in high school and are taught the age old tale of "go to college, earn degree, get good job, buy car, buy house, have baby, etc..." But it didn't really turn out that way for most of us. Because lo and behold we hit patch of ice after patch of ice and everything starts to spin. Perhaps for you the "ice" was the recession, a health crisis, a relationship crisis or an existential crisis. We hate feeling of being out of control. Yet every time I've tried to fight it things have only ended in disaster. So I'm trying with all my might to learn to just let go... The spinning never lasts longer than a moment and invariably the "car" stops. You get out and you look around and realize that things aren't so bad. Sure it's not what you had planned or how you wanted things to go but there's beauty everywhere if you look hard enough. You can always find something to be grateful for.
I think so much of my 20s were spent fighting my path and mistakenly thinking I had any sort of control over the journey. I thought I could control my learning, I could prevent mistakes and ensure perfection every step of the way. But life has a way of humbling us, removing the husk of pride and hubris and leaving us more raw and vulnerable but so much more open too. Nobody got to where they are by following a path of unblemished perfection. Often social media tries to convince us otherwise, tries to fool us into thinking that everyone's trajectory is much more linear and neat than our own. "Other people don't make mistakes, other people achieve all their dreams (in two years to boot!), other people get to eat their cake and keep it too" we tell ourselves. But go and listen to any individual over sixty speak and they will tell about all the times they got life dead wrong, all the times they screwed up badly, all the times they had to scrap it and try again, they had to say sorry, they had to admit defeat, they watched their dreams get crushed and they lost everything they thought they had. That is real life. That is grit. That is what makes us valuable and that is how wisdom is cultivated. For it is not on a sailboat in Positano that we become wise or on a white sandy beach. Wisdom is earned by the tears we shed on the floor, in the dark when we think we can't possibly go on anymore. But we do. We pick up. We dust off. We try again. 
And as Daniel Tiger wisely said "it's ok to make mistakes, try to fix them and learn from them too."

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