“We’re going the wrong way! He led us down the wrong way!”
My heart wanted to burst from my chest when I realized what was happening. We were going the wrong way down a divided highway!
It was the middle of the night in Boston and my band had just finished a set at the Midway Cafe. After loading the equipment into one van, the band loaded into the other van—and since I was one of the only sober ones, I was asked to drive the band home. The other driver simply said, “Follow me.”
There’s nothing wrong with being a follower; after all, if everyone is leading the way then we risk walking alone in every direction. But there is a danger in being a follower when the person you’re following doesn’t actually know where they’re going.
As we made our way out of the city, I carefully followed the van in front, but paid too close attention to the van and not enough attention to where we were going, which is why when we drove onto a ramp I didn’t realize it was an exit ramp and not an entrance ramp.
The first clue that something was wrong was when I wondered out loud, “Why is the other side of the highway on the right side?”
Then I added, “Isn’t the yellow line supposed to be on the left side?”
That’s when it hit me, and panic suddenly welled below the surface of the skin, like rocking a little too far back in a rocking chair.
I began flashing the lights to get the other driver’s attention but he just kept going. The road started to curve, making it impossible to see if any vehicles were coming around the bend.
In my mind I saw a car coming at us full speed and imagined the shock and fear that would rush over them seeing headlights heading straight towards them.
“Which way will they turn?” I wondered. “If I turn left to avoid hitting them, what if they turn right at the same time and we crash into each other anyway?”
It was like asking the proverbial chicken or the egg question, but with the twist of a game of chicken.
While there was no one yet coming towards us, with every second the possibility of this scared speculation becoming a reality increased.
All at once I made a decision and acted on it, as fast as the synapses could fire. The van in front carried the equipment; the van I was driving carried the band members themselves—and I wasn’t going to risk losing those five souls because of a silly mistake.
I performed the fastest 3-point turn in the history of driving (at least, that’s what it felt like). In the haste of the moment I neglected to account for the added length of the van, and during the extreme maneuver the back of the van slammed into the concrete median. But it was only a touch and go hit, because before we even finished backing up I put the van back into drive and slammed the gas pedal.
A sigh of relief fell over all of us.
Even though I didn’t know the way home, at least we were finally headed in the right direction.
I think of that night often, thankful that all of us, including the other driver—who simply got off at the next exit—all made it home safely that night.
Though it can be easy to be angry at the other driver for leading us astray, I am careful to instead point a patient finger at myself. The decision to follow comes with the responsibility to also remain aware of where you’re going, and to break away from the pack when something doesn’t feel right.
No one can take you out of character and lead you astray without your consent, whether by design or by default. Today, whenever I feel the urge to pass blame or judgement onto another, I remember that night in Boston, and instead point a patient finger at myself.
Such patience can empower you with self-control, humility, and kindness, so that even if you don’t quite know the way, you are at least headed in the right direction.
What are you doing to bring more patience into your everyday life?
The day had finally arrived and Hiroshi stepped into the factory with open eyes and mind.
He had traveled 10,000 miles to get to Cincinnati just for this one meeting and there was a lot riding on it, because back home in Kyoto, Japan, there were plenty of people doubting him.
When he succeeded his grandfather as president of the company in 1949, he had no management or engineering experience, and that didn’t sit well with those who had been with the company for decades. In the seven years since taking over the role, however, he succeeded in what many thought would be impossible, leading their small company to domination in the playing card market in Japan.
But Hiroshi’s vision was bigger than that. He wanted to lead their company to worldwide success, which is why he arranged a meeting with the leaders from the largest manufacturer of playing cards in the world, The United States Playing Card Company, with the hopes of gleaning inspiration to bring back home.
As Hiroshi stepped into the headquarters of the world’s largest and most respected manufacturer of playing cards, however, something didn’t feel right. He was shocked to discover that they operated out of a small-scale office and factory! This was not the vision he had in mind, and as he left the meeting he realized that playing card manufacturing is a rather limited venture with little room for growth.
Rather than being deflated by this, Hiroshi used this information to empower his vision with a new plan, which included diversifying the company’s ventures in family home entertainment products. Instead of simply producing playing cards, they went on to also produce board games and toys, and as electronics began to enter the market he directed his engineers to begin experimenting with the new medium.
As a result of Hiroshi Yamauchi’s vision, during his 53 years as president, he successfully transformed the Nintendo Playing Card Company into an international multibillion-dollar leader in the video game industry.
Despite his lack of experience when he first got started, Hiroshi Yamauchi was able to achieve his vision through honesty, anticipation, and imagination—and you can use these to likewise empower your own vision:
What’s your vision?
“You’ve met me countless times already, how do you not remember my name?”
Kate called me out in front of everyone at the party.
I was mortified.
Yet what made it feel even worse was wondering how it must have made Kate feel, because not remembering someone’s name sends a signal that you don’t care about them and that they don’t matter.
And Kate was right.
We share mutual friends so we would often find ourselves at the same gatherings, yet up until that night I could not for the life of me remember Kate’s name.
There was no excuse for the social blunder and instead of trying to rationalize it, I used the experience as motivation to do something about it by obtaining a copy of Harry Lorayne’s aptly titled book: The Memory Book.
The book shares accurate, accessible, and actionable strategies for training your memory, but the most striking takeaway for me was the understanding that when we don’t remember someone’s name, it’s not that we forgot it—it’s that we never knew it to begin with.
Think of a time in your life when you first met someone, and then only moments later couldn’t recall their name. The reason for this is simple: you weren’t really listening!
The word listen is derived from archaic words meaning “attention, to be called, to hear, and obey.” This understanding highlights how the act of sincere listening requires a response to accept and acknowledge what was received.
And therein lies that key to listening: It requires a response.
In the case of listening to someone’s name who you just met, the response might be to use their name in a sentence.
In the case of listening to feedback while being called out at a party, the response might be to read a book to improve your knowledge and skills.
To this day, Kate’s name is burned in my memory because it’s associated with a meaningful and emotional experience. It no longer matters, though, because since that night all those years ago I have never seen her again.
(Perhaps the deeper lesson here is if we don’t care to sincerely listen to others, then they will treat us with similar indifference and avoid our company. Perhaps.)
Despite the social blunder, Kate has been a valuable teacher, influencing me to be a more sincere listener—and in so doing signaling to others that I care about them and that they matter.
And isn’t that something the world could use more of?
What might you do to listen more sincerely to the people around you?
When Mrs. Kwasniewski handed back the graded geometry homework, she stopped when she got to mine to discuss the train wreck I had handed in.
I spent hours working on that assignment, filling several pages with various mathematical equations in a desperate yet futile attempt to find the answer.
Despite these efforts, my final solution was not the correct answer, however what Kwas wanted to point out to the class was the paper trail left behind—evidence I had stayed with the problem even after a few failed attempts, when other students may have simply given up out of frustration.
Sure, even though I didn’t provide the answer she was looking for, I had pages upon pages of support for why I thought my solution was valid—and it was this fascination for discovering a solution that my high school geometry teacher most appreciated.
This experience is a valuable reminder that when we give up too soon while climbing the hill of a challenge, we may avoid the pain of discomfort, but we also avoid the glory of discovering new possibilities for our lives—possibilities that can only be discovered when we stay with it with fascination.
As the song goes: “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”
As for you and me, I hope we continue to dance.
What area of your life could use more fascination?
“Looking back on the memory of the dance we shared beneath the stars above, for a moment all the world was right—how could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye?”
It’s been 14 years since our dance beneath the stars—the night when Stephanie finally said yes. After eight years of being wildly in love, with the brightest smile, she finally said yes!
“I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go.”
Just ten days later, Stephanie died unexpectedly from an aneurism. The ensuing battle with grief removed all flavor for life. Even the things that once brought great joy just seemed so bland, so useless, and I could see no life beyond the hill of grief.
Amidst the darkness, there were even days when I wished I had never even met Stephanie—for a greater pain had sincerely never before been known.
And yet, what is perhaps most fascinating, is that after climbing that hill, life has continued to be filled with surprises to amaze and delight.
“Our lives are better left to chance—I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”
I can say with authority that one of the kindest gifts you can give yourself is fascination for life, because fascination empowers you with curiosity and wonder to look for, discover, and embrace new possibilities for what your life might be.
While I still think of Stephanie every day, the pain of losing her has been transformed and integrated into who I am, in what I do, and in how I live my life. As a result, I am consistently amazed to discover new joys, passions, and relationships to make my heart flutter and soul sing in ways I never before could have imagined—whether it’s discovering a new perspective from a mountain top, learning to play the ukulele, or simply helping to make someone smile.
As for today, I’m amazed by all that life has offered since September 5, 2007, a valuable reminder that I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to also miss the dance.
What beliefs might you challenge today—with fascination, curiosity, and wonder—to discover what your life might be?
I'm a mirror (and so are you).