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A closer look at speed bumps (and why it matters)

One morning when bumper-to-bumper traffic was crawling, I began paying attention to how drivers were navigating the speed bumps. Quietly, it all became a metaphor to me for how people approach life’s challenges.

Such an intriguing title, I know. I’m not saying that everything that happens has meaning. But if you’re looking for meaning in life, you can find it anywhere — in happy, muddy dogs; in blue suede boots; and yes, even in speed bumps. Not every revelation needs to be accompanied by fireworks and symphonies. Allow yourself to be inspired by simple, mundane things. Lessons learned quietly matter just as much as those with drama and hoopla.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been driving my oldest son to school on cold or rainy mornings. When we’re early, I can cruise unobstructed through the driveway and over to the drop-off point at the main sidewalk. But if we pull up minutes before the school bell is about to ring, the carpool traffic is pretty backed up.

Along the way are two speed bumps. One is in the driveway. The other is in the exit lane that cuts through the parking lot heading back to the driveway.

One morning when bumper-to-bumper traffic was crawling through the entire route, I began paying attention to how drivers were navigating the speed bumps. Quietly, it all became a metaphor to me for how people approach life’s challenges.

Literally speaking

In the driveway, I watched one driver pull their truck as far right as they could go without scraping the curb. The driver’s goal was to keep the two passenger-side tires on flat ground while only the two driver-side tires experienced the bump’s mild climb and decent. Over at the speed bump in the parking lot area, I saw a driver come incredibly close to hitting a parked car just so they could drive completely around the speed bump. Not to mention the drivers who hurried all four wheels up and over either of the speed bumps without hesitating.

I have my own technique for approaching speed bumps. I’m a by-the-book kind of person, so most often I face a speed bump head on. As I approach, I take my foot off the accelerator and wait patiently for the wheels to meet the bump. I calmly anticipate the moment when the vehicle’s inertia lifts me up and over the bump. When I’m squarely past the bump, I press down on the gas gradually as I leave the bump behind.

Once in a while I’m in the mood to drive oh-so cautiously around the side of a speed bump. A long time ago I was in a serious accident while driving across parking spaces, and I try to not make that same mistake. Besides, I’m too practical. I’m not convinced that going around the speed bump is worth the effort. I would be thrilled if one of those TV shows that try to dispel myths would test my theory:

  • Is it faster to go the extra distance by swinging out and around a speed bump rather than slowing down and maintaining a straight path?
  • If it is a few seconds faster to go around, is the amount of time gained adding value to our lives?

I’ll even admit there have been times when I’ve overlooked all the signs or misjudged my approached and a speed bump has tossed me up, out of my seat. Fortunately that doesn’t happen too often.

The figurative approach

Think about it. When you’re in your vehicle, you see a sign on the side of the road that says “Speed Bump” and sometimes the actual speed bump is painted with huge amber caution lines. Wouldn’t it be incredible if, in life, we got fair warning that we are about to approach a challenge and we’d been trained on how to deal with it?

Wouldn’t it be incredible if, in life, we got fair warning that we are about to approach a challenge and we’d been trained on how to deal with it?

But life isn’t that easy. We each face small and big challenges every day. Sometimes we see the signs that a challenge is approaching, and we can prepare ourselves to address it. It could be we deal with the challenge by committing as little as we can — by keeping two tires on the ground, and sparing ourselves from whatever pain or struggle is in our control. We might go all in, pacing ourselves and taking it one calculated step at a time. Or we could take one of the extreme approaches — either barreling through the challenge or taking measures to avoid it completely. And then sometimes we might not be paying full attention and the challenge catches us completely off guard.

Actual speed bumps aren’t scary, but some of life’s challenges can be. Scary or not, there are a few good things about speed bumps (the literal and the figurative ones):

  • They remind you to slow down once in a while, to take in the scenery, and appreciate both the ups and downs in life, because they are all part of your journey.
  • If “timing is everything,” then speed bumps help to ensure you’re in the exact right place at the exact right time.
  • Whether you’re facing a speed bump or a mountain, how you decide to get past it will help you learn more about yourself and develop personally.

Sometimes you see life’s speed bumps approaching and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you’re prepared to deal with them, and sometimes you’re not. There are a lot of ways to head into a challenge; depending on the circumstances, you hope to always pick the right approach. When you’ve picked the wrong path, you try not to repeat your mistakes, but there are no guarantees that you won’t. In any case, life’s speed bumps are chances for you to learn from both your successes and your blunders. Accepting the bad outcomes with the good ones can help you become more humble, and in that, you can become more loving.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

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