Much like love, success is relative and we each define it differently. For me, Success is FREEDOM - to work when I want, from where I want, and with whom I want. It’s also the freedom to do the things I am passionate about like travel, dining at fine restaurants, and enjoying the “toys” that can be afforded with success.
My favorite toy is my car. I make no secret that I like to drive fast and doing so in a car that is the epitome of high-performance luxury is the ultimate expression of freedom. I’ve learned, however, that driving a car is a perfect metaphor for achieving success. After all, much like with success, it’s easy to get off course.
There are two invaluable lessons about driving that mirror lessons about success.
The Drive For Success…
In 1999, I bought a Honda S2000, during one of the most hyped car introductions in history. The S2000 had the first ignition push start button. It is a simple feature, but to go from turning a key to pushing a single button to start the car, literally puts the power at your fingertips.
As a birthday gift, my employees treated me to a driving lesson at Motor Sports Ranch, a kind of country club for car enthusiasts just south of Fort Worth, TX. Basically, it’s a race track road course, where you can take your own car on the track. Imagine strapping into a S2000 with a racecar instructor and driving faster than 150 miles an hour. I was stoked.
The race car instructor takes an initial lap around the track to get a feel for the car, then provides a few lessons. Shortly thereafter, the car owner gets to strap in, then spin around the race track at non-legal speeds, while applying his instruction. Cool, right?
One of the lessons I learned on the track changed my life.
Lesson 1 – Focus Where You WANT to Go
The instructor said, “Your car will follow your eyes. Wherever you look, the car will go. If you look at the wall (as we are racing over 100 miles an hour!), you’ll hit the wall. If you look to the left of the wall (good idea by the way), the car will veer left. Always place your vision on where you want to go, rather than where you are.”
Wow. I’ve heard that before! My grandfather taught me that same lesson with his famed “you get what you focus on” fable that I’m asked to recount everywhere I go.
Needless to say, I knew this advice well, but to experience it in the driver’s seat and feel the car physically follow my eyes’ focus was a visceral, life-changing experience.
As we neared a hairpin turn, the natural tendency was to focus where I didn’t want to go…into the wall.
We all do this – we focus on our fears, or on the problems of life. And, now that wall was creating a problem as my car came closer to it at breath-taking speeds! fears head on? To steer yourself in the right direction, you first have to identify the barriers holding you back.
The instructor commanded, “Shift your focus to where you WANT to go. If you look at the wall, you’ll hit the wall.”
Hard as I tried, I could not stop looking at the wall. The fear in my chest was overwhelming until finally, less than 3 inches from the wall, the driver grabbed the steering wheel and navigated us to safety.
“Stop the car,” he said.
“Terri, the car follows your eyes. It goes…where you look. Focus on where you want to go, not where you’re afraid you’ll end up.”
Something snapped. I GOT it.
I revved the engine, and sped off down the straight-away, breaking the 100 mile an hour mark, and neared the next turn. As I leaned into the turn, the car naturally moved closer to the wall.
I felt the urge to look, but my instructor reminded me: “Put your focus on where you want to go.”
As I shifted my focus to the left, I could see the inner rim of the track and the next point in the turn, and instantly the car moved away from the wall!
So lesson one for driving a car, and achieving success: Keep your focus on where you want to go, not where you are afraid you’ll end up.
Keep your focus on where you want to go, not where you are afraid you’ll end up.
Lesson 2 – It’s ALL About Perspective
This race car experience reminded me of another driving lesson I received from my grandfather many years before – and I took great joy in telling the instructor about gramps and his driving lessons for me.
I saved every dime to buy my first car, a Datsun B210, before heading off to college. Although I knew how to drive, gramps wanted to share some wisdom with his beloved granddaughter before she drove out of state. As with all of his lessons, I could sense this was bigger than Safety 101, so I eagerly obliged.
We got into the car, and he talked to me about the basics: the importance of the seat belt, to keep the radio noise at safe levels, all of that kind of stuff. But then, as we were driving down the highway he said, “I want to show you something. Do you notice how big the windshield is?”
I said, “Yes. So…”
He followed, “If you knew where you wanted to go, would you use the windshield or the mirrors?”
“The windshield, Gramps. That’s the only way to see where I am going.”
He said, “Good. Now look in the rearview mirror. What do you see?”
I was getting a little nervous, because cars were whizzing past me, and I wasn’t totally comfortable yet driving on the highway.
“I see stuff behind me. What’s the point, Gramps?”
“Stay with me. Now look in the side view mirrors. What do you see?"
“I see the stuff behind me, and the cars that are passing me.”
He pressed, “Does the stuff behind you look the same?”
I responded, still not getting it. “Yes. Well…No, actually, it doesn’t. It’s from a different perspective.”
He said, “Great, pull over for a second.”
Then he grabbed my face and made me look him straight in the eyes, with his steel blue eyes piercing my soul.
“Terri, driving a car is the same as achieving success.
The first step is to spend more time looking forward, out of the windshield to where you want to go.
The second step is to occasionally look at the smaller rearview mirror to remind yourself where you’ve been. The key is to not spend too much time there, because where you’ve been is behind you.
But the third step is to also view your past from a new perspective. The side view mirrors allow you to see the blind spots. You’ll gain a different perspective on your past, and it will help you navigate both where you want to go and bring into view anything blocking you from getting there.
Look at your past from the side view mirrors every now and then and remind yourself where you’ve been without holding on to that vision. Then refocus on where you want to go."
I never forgot his wisdom on how to achieve success, and as I shared his story with my race car instructor, that familiar little salty tear welled up when I recanted grandpa’s wisdom.
The race car instructor smiled and said, “Your grandfather was one smart guy. He’s right, success is like driving a car.”
- Look where you want to go, not where you’re afraid you’ll end up.
- Change your perspective and focus on what’s ahead, rather than what’s behind. Every now and then glance at the past from the side view mirrors and remember how it prepared you for the present.
Excellent advice for a girl who loves to drive cars and do everything…FAST.