Alexa wanted so badly to get her license. She had wanted that even before she was 16. Her parents had made her take intensive online driving studies and endure a slew of practice hours, and yet they still didn’t feel she was ready.
“They’re just overprotective.” reasoned Alexa. “They don’t want anything to happen to me. Will they ever stop thinking of me as a child?”
Even her younger brother had been allowed to get his license, and now he was driving her places. Sooooo embarrassing.
Her parents had made a rule. For every “concerning event” that transpired while Alexa was driving, that meant at least seven more hours of behind-the-wheel practice.
One evening – around sunset – Alexa was practice-driving after some volunteer work. She was driving a less familiar car with an odd mirror setup that, for her, created a blind spot to the left (others didn’t seem to find this mirror problematic).
According to Mom’s instructions, Alexa attempted to get in the left lane to turn onto the road leading home (there was only a short distance in which to make this lane change).
Suddenly, Mom grabbed the wheel, crying “NOOOOO!”
And to their left sped a small, neutral-colored sedan, emerging from its hiding place within Alexa’s blind spot and the bright natural light.
Alexa had almost creamed the sedan.
She could immediately sense Mom’s shock and disappointment. And Alexa felt intensely disappointed in herself. This meant at least seven more hours of BTW training, which felt like forever, because she suspected that there would always be another “concerning issue” prolonging the practice time. And seriously, how could she have missed that sedan? Why did she even agree to drive that stupid car in the first place?
They arrived at the house, and Alexa hurried to her room and locked the door.
Her future flashed before her mind. She saw herself being trapped in her parents’ house at 30, unable to drive, not independent at all. She felt that she would never be allowed to act like an adult, even though at her present age, she technically was one.
She felt completely trapped.
What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she get anything right? Her brain didn’t seem to be on her side anymore. She was even struggling in her college math class, which was unusual for her (and she had no obvious explanation, like no love or romance in her life to cause distracted thinking). What on earth was happening? Maybe she would be a handicap the rest of her life.
She didn’t want to go on existing.
Finally, Alexa began to recognize that there were health problems afoot. She had been fighting severe headaches and sinus congestion for a while. She suspected she was suffering from chronic infection, and possibly other issues. So she began to visit some doctors, took a prescribed antibiotic for a suspected sinus infection, and learned that she had many environmental allergies (to pets, mold, everything). This information was relieving. She’d found, at least, a partial explanation for everything that was going on!
Her health improved decently. She became a much safer driver, and eventually (over a year later) was permitted to take the driving test. At last!
After that painful, embarrassing season, Alexa was able to look back and realize that, had she had her license at the time and been driving alone in the sunset that night – attempting to change lanes – she might have missed something and caused pain, hassle, or even death for the other driver and herself. Her instructor (mom) was still in the passenger seat for a reason.
This valley that she had traversed was necessary to lead her to recognize and address her health issues, so that she could be safe on the road and enjoy a higher quality of life.
— — — — — — —
Dylan didn’t understand it. He was doing his very best at work, while others were slacking off. Every day, he kicked butt, worked up a sweat, and did the job of two or three people. That was the problem. He worked too hard, which only inspired his teammates to idle around. (Why did they operate this way? Why couldn’t they all give it their best simultaneously? Be in this together?) But Dylan couldn’t justify not working hard. His conscience wouldn’t allow that. He had to give his best, no matter what others chose to do. But maybe he was giving more than his best. If he continued to burn himself out, he would no longer be able to give as much.
He didn’t allow others to experience the consequences of their dormancy. He simply masked their issues by his own diligence. But then, he didn’t think they would suffer if they were found to be slacking. They had special connections to higher-ups, whereas Dylan kept his head down and his nose to the grindstone. He didn’t bother – or even know how – to glad-hand his way to favor. He was just…himself. Dylan tried to be kind and encouraging and supportive to everyone, but he couldn’t manufacture an energy he didn’t have (especially anymore, since he’d exhausted his energy resources), in order to impress his leaders.
If there was a mess leftover that night – and he had worked at a normal pace while his colleagues had slacked – he had a feeling he’d get blamed for it. And so he continued to hustle like a workhorse, heeding fear and conscience.
Dylan was only 22, but he felt like he was aging fast. He was working so hard to please his bosses and to maintain favor with everyone – and, most importantly, to do a good job – but he knew that he could not go on like this for much longer. He had communicated his concerns with leadership, but little, if any action seemed to have been taken. Or if action had been taken, it hadn’t been very effective.
But Dylan never ceased to observe his environment, and the ways people functioned in their roles. He observed excellent leadership and poor leadership. He made mental notes of the qualities of inspirational, trustworthy leaders, and of the less desirable qualities of superiors who operated simply as bosses. He learned what he valued in a leader, and what qualities he would desire to embody should he ever become one (though he deemed this opportunity unlikely, and didn’t necessarily desire a leadership role). More importantly, he learned what kind of person he wanted to become in general – leadership aside.
The climax of Dylan’s stint with this company began as follows.
Dylan sought to cross-train and transfer to another department. After all, others who performed just as well or who worked less dependably than he had been allowed to do the same. Cross-training and transferring was generally respected and valued here. Dylan figured that since he had put so much into the success of his team and his store, his leaders would (hopefully) be glad to help him grow.
Two leaders expressed great excitement about the idea and their support for Dylan. But unfortunately, they were not in positions to accommodate his ambitions. The decision was up to the head manager. And the manager did not like Dylan.
As you may have guessed, Dylan was not allowed to transfer to the other department (a team which, in fact, desperately needed more hands).
This decision by the manager was significant motivation for Dylan to look around for a better job and get out of there. And with the help of supportive friends and references, he did just that.
This low point was the impetus he needed to seek a more gratifying work situation and an improved quality of life.
Once he became thoroughly sick of the valley, he sought higher ground, and was no longer afraid to make the climb to get there.
His disappointment and mistreatment was a gift in disguise.
Typically, we desire to feel like we are in control of life. Peacefully situated on the mountaintop, safe from all the s**t getting dropped on the ground. We want to be secure, successful, and shielded.
We yearn to be free from pain, emotional suffering, disease, setbacks.
But I ask you this: how can you appreciate a beautiful thing fully when you don’t know its absolute contrast?
How can you enjoy the splendor of light if you’ve never beheld darkness? If you’ve never known what light is not?
How can you thoroughly appreciate sweetness unless you’ve tasted that which is bitter?
How can you relish excellent health if you’ve always enjoyed it? If you’ve suffered no affliction with which to compare it?
How can you love the sunshine if you’ve never witnessed thunderstorms or a cloudy night?
How can you feel beautiful if you’ve never known what it’s like to feel ugly or unwanted?
How can you appreciate who you’ve become, if you’ve never battled any vices or sins?
You cannot reach the mountaintop unless you’ve walked through the valley, and up the winding hills. There is no shortcut.
Alexa and Dylan’s stories represent my own.
I was that kid who thought she’d never be allowed to grow up. Little did I see, all the “setbacks” kept me from dying young.
I was that young adult who thought she was going to lose her mind and fall apart physically while continuing to work in a taxing, unappreciative corporate environment. But I learned so much through my years there, and the pain gave me the strength to move forward and make the effort to leave. I also learned what kind of person I don’t want to be, and gained a greater vision of the person I aspire to become.
Just a reminder to treasure the valleys as well as the mountaintops. The dips in the earth, the concave terrain, the chasmal valleys are what make the mountains the soaring heights that they are.
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