The way I figure it, I spent about 200 24-hour days in traffic on State Route 520 from Seattle to Redmond and back over the course of 10 years. This commute bore the distinction of taking me across the longest floating bridge on Earth twice a day.
You see a lot when you spend that kind of time in the car. Little things, like the fact that someone glued a bottle of aspirin to the jersey wall between the east- and west-bound lanes. The way a road-striping crew painted a fresh yellow line all the way up to—and then beyond—a dead raccoon on the side of the highway. And a guy dressed as the grim reaper, standing silently at an intersection.
These things were entertaining, but one of my experiences became a metaphor that has helped me ever since.
During my commute, I was often frustrated to find myself in a lane that had come to a dead stop, while traffic moved briskly and efficiently in the next lane over. Eventually, I learned that I couldn’t switch to the lane I wanted to be in unless the traffic in my own lane began to move as well.
I learned that you can’t change lanes unless you’re moving.
The economy brought me to a halt, and I saw nothing but brake lights. This was especially frustrating because people were sailing by unscathed in the next lane over.
It took a while, but the lane I’m in has begun to move. It’s less than ideal. It’s nowhere near where I’ve been or where I want to be. But as I pick up speed, I also pick up the ability to make choices.
At some point, I’ll be able to change lanes. Or I’ll realize that the one I’m in now turned out to be the right one after all.