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Navigating life's right-hand turns

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

In high school, I - and many with me - glanced at the prospect of having a driver’s license and thus began the process of practice driving. Then came the day when it was time to skid. It was the first time that we as driving school students were alone in the car (which was a big deal in and of itself!) and we received the teacher’s instructions via speakers inside the car. When we got there, it turned out that the straight road was occupied by other student drivers, and so my group had to start skid driving in a curve. A curve turning to the right. I was first out and as I approached the curve I slowed down and crawled through it. Safely and controlled and without any problems. However, the next time it was my turn, the teacher told me to increase the speed a little bit. Full of trust, I followed his instructions and at the front of the turn I skidded with the car. It spun a couple of times and then slowly slid out onto the gravel next to the road. No harm done; where to learn how to navigate a slippery road if not there, on a slippery road.

But my body went into full panic. After a while, when the driving instructor approached me, I sat holding the steering wheel in a convulsive grip and hyperventilated. It has now been 25 years since this happened and today I consider myself a rather good and safe car driver, but I still feel in every right-hand turn, regardless of the condition of the road, what it could be like to lose control of the car because the tires slip off the ground.

This thing about navigating carefully so as not to risk driving off the road is also something that has come up quite often in my life. I have realized that everyday life is full of right-hand turns, not only in traffic. To me, they represent situations and moments when I have chosen to play it safe, when I have diminished or held back parts of myself for fear of standing out or not being accepted.

I learned early on to take other people's perspective, validate and show empathy. Those in themselves are not bad qualities to have in a conversation. But for me it became a way to avoid standing in my truth with people, to avoid saying something that others might find uncomfortable to hear. It became a way of not having to face the dissatisfaction of others and a way of protecting myself from worrying that I might have said or done something wrong. I crawled the curves in every encounter I had.

But then I had a conversation that was eye opening for me. A friend and I had a girl's night and sat and talked into the wee hours over a cup of tea. I believe we were around 17 or 18 years old and in the light of a dimmed lamp we shared with each other the ups and downs of everyday teenage life. That particular evening she told me about another friendship in her life, which at the time felt strained and difficult. I wanted so badly to be of help and tried to see things from different angles to bring more clarity and understanding. Eventually, she stopped me. "I know you understand me," she said. “And I know you understand him. But what do you think?!”

Today, countless conversations later, I know the value of mutuality in a relationship, to listen as well as to have the courage to be listened to. To understand but also to express. To contribute, but also to let the other person do so. And today I feel grateful if someone perceiving me as cautious dares to ask if it comes from a place of kindness and care, or fear. Or when someone nudges me to be specific if I am too vague or general in my words. And I’m also grateful when I am being reminded that most of the right-hand turns in life are perfectly fine and safe to navigate, as long as you check the condition of the road once in a while.

Warmly,

Karolina


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