“The talent for being happy is appreciating and liking what you have, instead of what you don’t have.” – Woody Allen
Editor’s note: This is a guest article by Andrew J. Sherman.
Road Rules: Be the Truck. Not the Squirrel. Learn the 12 Essential Rules for Navigating the Road of Life was published earlier this month as my 18th book, but my first about life, motivation and self-help. My previous 17 books were all about business growth and development, but in 25 years of serving as a legal and strategic advisor to some of the world’s most successful enterprises as well as growing and established global companies, I began to observe strong parallels to personal growth and development.
I had also been accumulating a series of song lyrics, parables, quotes, stories, television and film scenes, etc. which had influenced my own career or served as a source of inspiration or guidance, which all lead to a two year effort in bringing the book to the general public.
In Road Rules, I chose the act of driving as a metaphor for life and all twelve (12) essential rules relate back to the experiences we face on our daily commute. My hope was that by focusing on something that we all do each day, the lessons would be easy to understand, absorb and apply to the challenges we face, both in the short term in a weak economy as well as long-term as we plot out our road maps for our life’s journey.
Let’s take a look at a summary of a few key points and observations from some of my favorite road rules:
- Be The Truck Not The Squirrel. On the ecosystem of the highway of life, strive to be closer to the truck than the squirrel. The truck drives confidently down the road of life as a carrier of valuable cargo for the benefit of others. Its mission is purposeful and directed – it is trying to get to a particular destination, deliver its goods and return to the road for its next task.
The truck remains focused on its goals – you’ll never see a truck out for a casual Sunday afternoon drive. The squirrel spends its days scampering around with no apparent mission or purpose, randomly searching for its next acorn and all too often, winds up crushed by the truck as roadkill. The truck did not intend to kill the squirrel but was unable to save those creatures that get in the way of its path who are unable or unwilling to help themselves.
Like the deer in the headlights who just freezes before its peril, we must be dedicated to a life of purposeful decision-making, especially in these difficult economic times. Whether a move to the left or the right was ultimately the right decision is less relevant than your willingness to move fast enough to avoid a fatal collision.
- Share the Road. The road of life does not belong to you alone on this journey. These are the two critical messages of the book’s second road rule. First, share the road. How many times have we seen other drivers, either on the road of life or on our actual highways cut off others as if their ability to reach their intended destination was more important than the rest of us. It is as if none of the rest of really mattered. We cannot live our lives in this selfish vacuum, especially in a post 9-11 and post-Enron society. We prosper by helping others to prosper. We embrace the notion that everyone’s attempt to reach their goals in life are equally important.
One of us can never be more important than all of us. Second, we are not alone on this journey. We all have an obligation to play tour guide to those who are trying to travel the roads that we have already mastered. Be a coach, a mentor, a friend to those who are trying to get to where you have already been. Our interconnected society driven by the internet, PDA’s and social networks allow us to help each other in ways never imaginable and it will only get better and stronger as technology requires.
I am old enough to remember the excitement of connecting with another driver on a CB radio, who could warn me of the detours and challenges that may lie ahead. We are now empowered to support each other in that same way, but where a few key strokes on to a device that sits in the palm of our hand can influence and improve the journey of thousands of other drivers on the road of life in a matter of milliseconds. Wow – I look so forward to the road ahead.
- Be An All Weather Driver. In this road rule, I was guided by a parable which reminds us all that if we only walk our paths on bright sunny days and on trails which are smooth and flat and on days where we feel healthy and invigorated and when we are wearing all the right gear and have all the right supplies, then we’ll never reach our destination.
To act only when conditions are perfect is essentially to not act at all. There will never be a time or a place when all of your driving conditions on the road of life will be ideal. You must commit to being al all-weather driver and an all-weather friend. We all can remember the phrase which goes back to our school-aged years about Billy or Susie being a “fair-weathered” friend. These were the people who were your best friend whenever things were going great, but were nowhere to be found when the proverbial sh*!?+ hit the fan. Well, I can promise you that Billy and Susie are probably still living their lives in that fickle and unreliable manner and it is not serving them well on their journey.
The truck must proceed in its journey and adapt its driving style accordingly in the worst of ice, snow, fog, hail, rain or the wheels of commerce come to a halt. The truck accepts that fact that not all roads or driving conditions will be perfect, but agrees to enter the highway of life each day either way.
As we grow older, we see these same “fair-weather” friends in the workplace. We see co-workers that will support you and abide by principles of teamwork after a project is going well, but will distance themselves as quickly as they can if a project or engagement is going poorly. We often must live with leaders of companies who are effective when the company’s growth looks like a hockey stick, but you would never want to follow them into a heated battle. We even see company’s culture unacceptably and unnecessarily abandon their trust, integrity and ethics, just because the weather is getting a little stormy. Lifelong all-weather drivers commit themselves to one code of ethics and values and conduct that will not be compromised just because we have a few inches of snow on the ground.
- Accidents Can Happen To Even The Best Drivers. This road rule is based in part on one of my favorite and most practical books, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner.
In his book, Kushner reminds us that we can commit to live our lives in a good and decent way and still stumble from time to time. There are circumstances we can control and many that we cannot, but that does not excuse or justify an abandonment of the rules or disavow a commitment to live a life of purpose and meaning just because something bad could still happen.
When a 55 year old marathon runner has a heart attack unexpectedly, it is not likely that they lay on the hospital operating table, wishing that they had been an overweight couch potato. We must commit our lives to being good and considerate drivers on the road of life (and on the actual highways) free from distraction, discourtesy and drugs or alcohol which influence our abilities and accept the fact that we may still have accidents notwithstanding our good habits.
The fear of an accident cannot be an excuse for not entering the highway or we’ll never reach our destination.
Everything in life has its risks and the most successful people and companies that I have ever met learn how to manage and mitigate these risks by accepting the fact that risk or stress-avoidance is a misnomer and a fantasy. Anything you can do to ensure that the accident will cause some damage, but not be fatal to you or others on the road will serve you well in life.
- Don’t Judge a Driver By His Vehicle. In this road rule, the messages of “not judging a book by its cover” or pre-determining the character of a person by their appearance are discussed and reinforced in the context of driving.
All too often on the road of life, we see a person in an expensive luxury sedan and make assumptions about their level of success or see a person in an old jalopy and feel sympathy for their apparent underachievements. Nothing could be more ridiculous. Hollywood stars and entertainers can be seen in L.A. in a Toyota Prius, Warren Buffett still drives each day from modest home in Omaha in an old Cadillac and Sam Walton drove to his office in Bentonville in an old pick-up truck.
On the flip side, there are real estate agents and sales professionals who lease luxury cars at absorbitant rates to convey a picture of success that are having trouble meeting their monthly mortgage payments. It is not for me or you to judge others on the decisions that they make, but we do have an obligation to look beyond the surface and embrace someone’s inner driver before arriving at any conclusions about whether we want to interact with them as a friend, neighbor or co-worker.
We have made some strides towards a society that celebrates diversity and inclusion, but still have a long way to go. Whether you voted for him or not, we all take price in electing our first African-American president, but cannot now “check that box” and assume that all racial tensions in this country have been abolished. For as long as diversity best practices preach tolerance as a compromise for heartfelt appreciation of each other, the problems and challenges will persist.
Diversity is the engine and the fuel for innovation, creativity and collaboration, but only if we stop worrying about a car’s exterior package and stay focused on the essence and functionality of the interior.
For more insights on being an enlightened driver on the road of life, take a look at http://bethetruck.com. I would also strongly encourage you to share with me your own driving war stories, parables and metaphors, advice particularly those that have influenced your driving style or your intended destination.
* * * * * * *
About the Author
ANDREW J. SHERMAN is a Partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Dickstein Shapiro LLP, with over 400 attorneys nationwide. Mr. Sherman is a recognized international authority on the legal and strategic issues affecting small and growing companies. His eighteenth (18th) book, Road Rules: Be the Truck. Not the Squirrel. Learn the 12 Essential Rules for Navigating the Road of Life is an inspirational book which was published in the fall of 2008. Mr. Sherman can be reached at 202-420-5000 or e-mail ShermanA@dicksteinshapiro.com.
If you enjoy the content found here, please join The BridgeMaker on Facebook. I appreciate your support. Also, be sure to visit the Ask page to read what our readers are asking for in their life right now.