Mark was in between sales calls, focused and ready for the next prospect. His alertness that day is likely why he was able to react in time to avoid the accident.
It all happened in an instant. Before he even understood what was happening, the neatly stacked phone books in the backseat all of a sudden flew onto the floor as his foot slammed onto the brakes.
Even just a split-second delay would have resulted in a rear-end collision with the commercial van that had changed lanes too close. Dangerously close! It’s as if the other driver hadn’t even seen him!
Though his car stopped in time, Mark’s heart kept racing faster and faster.
He was mad.
“He could have killed me!” He yelled out loud, though no one could hear him. “I could kill him!”
His rage needed an outlet, and that’s when he noticed the phone number on the back of the van. It was a roofing company and Mark wasted no time getting his cell phone out to let the people at the office know about the idiot driver who nearly killed him.
But Mark didn’t get to speak with anyone in an office, because the guy who answered the phone was on the road, a solopreneur doing the job of four people—roofing, logistics, marketing, and answering phones.
That’s right: Mark had a direct line with the guy who had just cut him off—the perfect outlet for his rage!
The driver was in disbelief. “Wait, is that you behind me right now?”
“YES!” Mark screamed. “You cut me off and nearly killed me!”
“You’re being unreasonable,” the driver replied.
“I’m being unreasonable?! You’re the one who cut me off!”
“Listen, let’s just pull over and settle this.”
“We’ll settle it alright!”
They pulled into the parking lot of a Dunkin' Donuts. When Mark realized what was happening, he regretted how he had reacted. But it was too late. The other driver was already out of the van and heading towards him.
Thinking fast, Mark dug through the pile of phone books in the back of the car until he felt the cool steel against his hand. With clenched fist, he grabbed hold of the lug wrench. He was hoping he wouldn't have to use it, but he’d rather have it and not need it (rather than need it and not have it).
Mark stepped out of the car just as the other driver was in striking distance. He braced himself for the worst.
“What do you need that for?”
“To settle this,” Mark barked.
“You don’t need that. Let’s settle this inside over a coffee. I’m buying.”
Mark’s heart finally stopped racing. He put the lug wrench away among the mess of phone books and walked into the coffee shop.
When they came to the table, they took turns explaining their side of the story:
When we wander through life treating assumptions as facts, we limit our capacity and restrain our possibilities. This negative behavior also creates division rather than unity—decreasing who we include as “us” and increasing who we exclude as “them.” (It might even lead to a fight in the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot with a tire iron!)
And yet, when we instead take time to sincerely understand others, we create opportunities for connecting on the common ground that binds us together—opening the door for unity and compassion.
These are all things Mark already knew. As a phone book sales rep, he spent every work day selling listings to connect people with one another. His job was to literally help people connect! He already knew this, but sometimes humans get distracted and forget who they really are.
By the time the coffee was gone, the would-be enemies left the table as allies—and Mark even sold the guy a listing in the phone book!
It truly doesn’t take much for two people to find a connection, but it does require one key element: someone has to make the first move.
Before continuing his day, Mark took a moment to set his car in order by cleaning up the mess of phone books in the backseat—vowing to try and do better moving forward.
What can you do to remind yourself to go first when trying to connect with others?
Relatively speaking, it should have been like a walk in the park. After all, by then I had been doing that kind of work for years. It had become second nature. So why was I suddenly a nervous wreck?
And let’s be honest, it wasn’t just like a walk in the park—it was literally a walk in the park. The year was 2008 and I had donated my magic act for a local charity hosting an event at Stanley Park in Westfield, MA. What I was supposed to do was stroll through the park performing impromptu magic for families as they partook in the day’s festivities.
That’s what I was supposed to do. But that’s not what I did. Instead, I anxiously walked through the park and every time a group of people passed by I quickly averted my eyes, hoping they wouldn’t realize I was the magician.
By that point I had already been performing some version of my magic act for over a decade and the behavior I was exhibiting that day in the park did not portray the confidence I had spent years building. What was up with it?
Perhaps you have your own story of a time in your life when you suddenly questioned your competence and with wavering confidence shied away from performing to the fullness of your ability. There can be any number of reasons for this, yet a common culprit is one that can befall us all at some point: Even just a couple instances of failure, experienced back-to-back, can be enough to lose faith in your ability to perform.
This is of course natural—we want to perform at our best—but it’s simply unrealistic to expect that we will always hit the mark every time. After all, even the world’s best baseball players strike out more than they actually hit the ball.
And it’s for this same reason that my confidence wavered that day in the park. It was my first performance after receiving two negative reviews from clients who were not happy with my performances.
The first review was from the president of an organization who had contracted me to perform for their afternoon luncheon. He said the show was childish and more appropriate for a younger audience.
The second review was from the mother of a child who had contracted me to perform for their birthday party. She said the show was too mature and more appropriate for an older audience.
Both clients wanted their money back.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the part that struck me was that I had performed the same act for both audiences—yet the reviews were in and didn’t look good. According to reputable sources, I was neither appropriate for adults nor children! Yet there I was, in Stanley Park, expected to perform for both children and adults regardless of the circumstances and criticism.
I’m happy to say that I did eventually get over myself that day in the park and gave the people my all—resulting in smiles, laughter, and joy. The experience was a much-needed confidence boost and a reminder that we can’t please everyone, but what we can do is focus on serving the people who are in front of us ready, eager, and willing to go on an adventure.
What fuels your confidence?
On a cold Massachusetts afternoon in November 2009, I hopped onto my bicycle and headed south. Despite the cold weather, the physical exertion quickly kept me warm as I rode through town.
But this was no ordinary bicycle ride. I had given up everything for it.
In the months leading up to the big day, I stopped accepting contracts—telling anyone requesting a performance of my magic act that I was no longer available, instead referring them to colleagues.
I donated most of my possessions to The Goodwill. It took many boxes and many carloads and many weeks to do—and the carefully curated items I did choose to keep were loaned to trusted family and friends to hold onto during my absence.
I gave my landlord 30-days notice that I would be vacating the premises, and the day before the ride I sold my car to a friend. The money would certainly come in handy on the unpredictable journey ahead.
I told people I was headed to California, and seeing as it was November, I charted a course that would first bring me south before journeying west. While I had the moral support of those closest to me, there were many who didn’t understand what I was doing.
“Why don’t you just stay here where you already have support?”
“No matter where you go, you can’t run away from your problems.”
“Why don’t you just take a plane? Or a train? Or a bus?”
“Why are you leaving now? November is a terrible time of year for a cross country bicycle ride!”
All of these concerns had validity to them, but none of them addressed the real reason for the journey, which had nothing to do with California.
During the two years prior to the ride, I struggled with grief, depression, and substance abuse following the death of a very dear friend. The loss shook the core of my Being, forever changing my understanding of life, reality, and my place within the fabric of the Universe.
During that time in the dark night of the soul, I didn’t want to exist. Not death, but a non-existence—by traveling back to the beginning of time and space to stop the cause that would one day lead to my existence. Sincerely, the night was dark and the grief was deep.
Despite the darkness, Hope kept trying to play hide-and-go-seek with me—pricking holes in the darkness like constellations offering clues for a way forward, reminding me that the best way out is always through.
To get through, though, would require a lot of changes. We cannot change what we don’t address and we can’t address what we’re not aware of. I was too close to it. I was too close to old habits. I was too close to unhealthy environments. I was too close to what people believed was true about me.
How can we fully step into who we really are when everyone around us has already made up their mind about who they think we are? We need to show them. And more importantly, we need to show ourselves.
In 2009, I was ready to show myself, and this meant making some drastic changes. For me, this meant removing all the distractions—giving myself time and space to take care of myself without having to also worry about supporting myself. It meant taking immediate action rather than waiting for a more convenient time. After all, if not now, when?
Most importantly, it meant being sincerely committed to the journey forward rather than merely being involved in it. I needed to be a pig, not a chicken.
(When serving bacon and eggs for breakfast, the chicken merely involves its eggs while the pig commits its entire life to the cause.)
In the end, it doesn’t matter what we might do and what we can do. All that matters is what we will do—what we actually commit to following through with. For me, this meant giving up everything to go on a bicycle ride.
What does commitment mean to you? What are you doing to ensure you follow through?
P.S. In case you’re wondering, though I didn’t make it to California on the bicycle, I did eventually reach my distention—and continue to arrive every day.
I'm a mirror (and so are you).