Woman driving a convertible car at the beach.


To find yourself, think for yourself.



Who’s in the driver’s seat?

Who (or what) drives our actions, decisions, and thoughts?

Some people go through their lives firmly in the driver’s seat. They know what they want and they do what it takes to get there. But even the most self-assured people have others who guide them, advise them, or otherwise influence them. They may be in the driver’s seat, but there is usually someone else in the car with them.

On the other extreme are people who are just along for the ride. Someone else is (or a series of people are) in the driver’s seat, and they may not even know where the car is going. These people might lack the confidence to make their own decisions or may be susceptible to manipulation or control. They are drawn to others who have strong visions even if they don’t share them, because the others provide them with a sense of direction, which they would otherwise lack. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this—some people are just naturally more comfortable in a supportive role—it is important for us to move our lives in ways that we understand and approve of. Even if someone else is driving, we should be aware of the route and destination.

Early in my career, my path and my day-to-day work were largely driven by someone else. I had no experience, and so I was almost completely under the control of a more experienced colleague. That was fine in the beginning. I gained invaluable experience and learned a lot about how to do my job and how we fit in the big picture. But I eventually started to chafe under his control and needed to have more influence on the direction my career was taking. Ultimately, we went our separate ways, and I was able to evolve naturally.

This is a fairly typical scenario, and it begs the question, “When are we ready to get behind the wheel?” There is no single right answer, and some people are naturally ready before others. However, we should be aware of our readiness to drive. Some are never ready, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the choice is deliberate.

My personal life was equally “directionless” when I was younger. I made some mistakes that I might not have made if I had been more intentional about my decisions. There wasn’t someone else in the driver’s seat during that time—there was no one in the driver’s seat. My choices were arbitrary and not well thought out. While this approach to life could be liberating and fun, it could also lead people down paths they do not intend to follow—paths that could be detrimental to the achievement of their goals. I think we all need some time like this when we are young—it helps us test the waters and understand consequences—but we eventually have to get our bearings and begin to chart our course.

It is also possible for other voices to drive our personal habits. When we choose to do things that are not healthy or beneficial to us or to those around us, to whose voice are we listening? Examples include addiction or overeating. We know that these are not healthy habits (see habit), but we engage in them anyway. We’re not driving the car, and, in this example, it’s not a person in the driver’s seat, it’s a compulsion. The voice of a compulsion can be just as strong or stronger than that of a person. Why else would people choose to engage in activities that they knew were very bad for them?

My father was a lifelong smoker, and he had the first in what would be a series of heart attacks in his early fifties. But he kept smoking. He was a highly intelligent person, and he knew that his smoking was a major cause of his heart disease, but he kept smoking anyway. The voice of compulsion was so powerful that he listened to it despite knowing that it was KILLING him. And eventually it did. That’s how strong the voices of compulsion can be.

All of us have other voices in our lives: some benevolent, some not so much. It’s up to each of us to decide how much to listen to those voices. Ultimately it’s our car and the journey is ours to take.

Who’s in your driver’s seat?

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