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Put Yourself in Your Life’s Driver’s Seat

Why is it that people do everything they can to learn to drive a car but don’t do the same to drive their life? It really is the same process. I’m going to risk torturing a metaphor to make the point. Put yourself in life’s driver’s seat. Here’s how.

Want it: When you didn’t know how to drive, you wanted to. You really wanted to. You knew that not knowing how to drive kept you dependent on others to get anywhere. It prevented you from getting to places and people you wanted to see. It might even have kept you poor because you couldn’t get to a job reliably. At some point, you were sick of not being able to drive. You were so motivated, you pushed aside or got over whatever fears you had about being in the driver’s seat and took charge.

Becoming successful at driving your life follows a similar process. There are probably people who are quite willing to drive your life if you let them. Only you can decide that you don’t want to be out of control any more. Push aside or overcome your fears to get in your driver’s seat. 

Take instruction: To learn to drive, you either took a driver’s ed class or got a parent or adult friend to take you on the road. You were willing to take instruction because you understood that there was more to learn than just how to turn the key. You accepted the expertise of someone who was older and experienced. 

People who are successful in life do just that. You don’t have to pretend to know it all when you don’t. Find yourself a mentor or two or more. Listen carefully and watch how things are done.

Learn the Rules: While learning to drive, you learned the rules of the road. Staying safe and out of trouble meant obeying the law. If you didn’t like a law, you learned how change can happen. You learned, for example, that you couldn’t change an intersection by demanding your “right” to make a right turn from a left lane. But you also learned that you might change how that intersection is configured by going through a process. 

There are rules in life as well. Every teacher, every boss, even every friend has expectations (rules) for how things should be done. Getting along means accepting reasonable rules. Do the “rules” seem unreasonable? As much as you might want to, you won’t be successful if you unilaterally start doing things differently. Instead, learn how to engage in a process of negotiation for making change.  

Learn the Social Rules: There are also social rules that keep drivers in cooperation with each other. Letting someone else make the turn or giving a little wave when someone else does it for you aren’t required but they do make things friendlier. Most people do understand that road rage doesn’t help when another driver does something thoughtless or stupid. In fact, rage usually makes things far worse. You learned how to let some things go and what to do to report someone whose driving is dangerous. Yes. You know where I’m going …

There are social rules in life, too. General politeness as well as small and large acts of kindness do keep things friendlier. Regardless of how angry coworkers, friends, or family make you at times, expressing rage will only make things worse. Learn how to let some things go and how to effectively confront the situation when you can’t.

Practice the hard parts: While learning to drive, you practiced — a lot. Skills like parallel parking and Y turns are challenging, but you tried and tried again until you mastered them. Practice matters in life, too.

Let’s say you are socially anxious and interacting with others is really, really hard for you. You can’t be successful in life if you refuse to leave your house. Instead, you need to identify social skills that are challenging for you and be willing to practice — a lot.

Call for help if you need it: When there’s something wrong with the car and you don’t know how to fix it, you aren’t ashamed to take it to a knowledgeable friend or to a shop. Your friend or mechanic will diagnose the problem and offer solutions. Sometimes you’ll be able to implement their suggestions by yourself. Sometimes, you’ll need to take the car off the road for a time for a lengthier fix by mechanics. Sometimes it will require learning how to drive the car a little differently in order to improve its performance.

There will be times in life when you know there is something wrong with your body or mind that you can’t fix with an over-the-counter drug or by talking to a friend. There is no shame in seeing your doctor or a therapist for help. They will diagnose what’s wrong and will offer you guidance about what you can do yourself and what might take more regular tune ups (appointments) after an initial fix. You may need to learn how to live life differently to get well or just to grow.

Don’t give up: While learning to drive, you had to learn what to do if you were stuck or spinning your wheels or unsure about what to do next. You learned a variety of ways to get out of a rut.

It’s unlikely that getting where you want to go in life will always be a smooth ride. Learn to recognize when you are “spinning your wheels.” Slow down. Accept that you won’t get different results if you use the same tactics over and over. Learn how to get out of the “ruts” you know only too well.

Take care of the car: Take care of your car and it will take care of you. It needs gas. It needs maintenance. It needs to be regularly cleaned up. It may need some retooling to perform even better.

So, yes, here I go again: Take care of your body and it will take care of you. That means doing the basics of maintenance like getting enough sleep, eating right, and fitting exercise into your schedule. Looking your best by cleaning up and dressing up will help you do your best. If you want to up your horsepower, you need to do more than the minimum. You may need some retooling by getting more schooling or more experience.

Put Yourself in Your Life’s Driver’s Seat


Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart. Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.


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APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2019). Put Yourself in Your Life’s Driver’s Seat. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 11, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/put-yourself-in-your-lifes-drivers-seat/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Sep 2019 (Originally: 30 Sep 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Sep 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.