“Take control of the intersection!” I’ll never forget how often that was beaten into my head during the short time I drove truck. “You’re bigger than them and you can’t maneuver the way they do — make sure you always give yourself a way to get out of any situation you get into.” Over and over and over again we were told things that sounded at the time ridiculously repetitive, but once we got behind the wheel and had to face a world filled with car drivers who didn’t care one whit about what I had to do in the truth I quickly understood the nature of our lessons.
The thing is, you can’t go through life driving a semi through heavy city traffic and not have it affect your attitude about life. I suspect that those few years had a bigger impact on who I am today than I might ever have guessed.
Unlike the company driver who moves freight from one terminal to another, primarily on open highways, I drove a flatbed and I delivered anywhere my freight was needed. I unloaded in New York City; I unloaded on the Miracle Mile in Chicago; I unloaded in the wilds of the Jackson Hole mountains. Wherever the freight went, I went — all 80,000 lbs of me. There were no walls on the trailer to hide what I was carrying. If my load looked tippy I scared the bejeezus out of the cars near me but I knew that it was properly fastened to the trailer. If I swung wide through an intersection it was because that was the only way I could get through that intersection. Purchasing agents and architects and general contractors don’t plot out how they are going to get the stuff to their job site when they order it — they figure that’s MY job and it’s up to me.
Of course, not every driver is careful enough about how they are getting their load to it’s destination. Both of those images on the right side of the page are drivers who got into trouble because they weren’t being positive enough about their jobs. In the top case the driver didn’t insist on taking as much room as he needed to navigate the corner. In the second image the driver neglected to check his/her overheads and proceeded anyway. If you’re going to drive a truck you have to be a little bit bossy, a little bit obsessive compulsive, a little bit daredevil because the people in cars aren’t going to give an inch unless you take it, and they are going to get more upset if you tie up traffic for a day while people unload the freight you left on the street when you hit that bridge than they’ll be if you cause them a two minute delay because you swung wide into an intersection. You have to be positive. You have to be self assured. You have to do whatever needs doing no matter where you are or what’s happening around you.
What you do, how you spend your life, with whom you spend your life — all these things and more make us into who we become. My dear Peggy spent her working career as a problem solver for the hospital/healthcare corporation. When she hired new employees she made sure they liked puzzles as that was a big part of what her department did: solving puzzles without rules (meaning the puzzle existed beyond a simple “this should have happened but it didn’t”). To this day, even in retirement, she is still solving puzzles. If it’s not a jigsaw puzzle it’s a word search or some other puzzle. While I’m in the office researching or working on images or reading, she’s detangling something — it’s who she has become.
It’s said that no one will have so great an influence on you as your spouse — that is surely true if you are fortunate enough to have a long marriage. Sometimes even short marriages forever mark one or both participants — it’s easy to lose trust in a person — and once you’ve been disappointed by one person it’s harder to trust anyone ever again. Bosses, customers, casual contacts as we go through life — all of these affect us. We can pretend they don’t, but we are only fooling ourselves. We are what we think about; we are what we do; we are who we behave.
One of the cliches I hate the most is when someone says, “that’s so unlike me.” The problem being that if we’ve done something, or said something that embarrasses us and we want to excuse our behavior by saying “that’s so unlike me” we need to realize that we were the one who did that thing that so embarrassed us. Or we were the one who said that thing. It was us. Ourselves. Not someone else. Our image of ourself is out of line with the reality of who we are. Self-knowledge, you see, is nowhere near as common as people think.
I am the sum total of my life’s experience. The time I spent answering a phone for hours at a time; the time I spent piloting a semi around the country and dealing with shippers and receivers; the time I’ve spent with a dear wife, and daughter, and granddaughter — these too have made me into who I am today.
I suspect I’m less tolerant of people who don’t take control over their life — because I had to do just that. And I’m sure I am not as sympathetic towards a variety of illnesses and conditions because I’ve been pretty healthy most of my life — I don’t want to be un-sympathetic, but I’m not as practiced at it as I might be.
Have I ever been sorry that I’ve taken the course through life that I have — a hodge podge of different chapters that seem disconnected and incongruous? Not for a moment. I had a good friend who was want to say, “Consistency, thou art a jewel” and he was steady as a rock and completely predictable. I always answered back that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” We got along just fine, the two of us. We both learned from the other about things we’d never have considered had the other one not been in our life. But I’d never stop being me to be more like him. Consistency worked for him. It wasn’t quite as good for me. And I still find that I need to take control of the intersection. It’s who I am today. 🙂