Expat Life

What Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road Has Taught Me

So I had a little car accident.  Nothing hurt other than my pride really, well that and a bit of the car’s side panel.  It was just that the brick wall in front of our house jumped out unexpectedly and viciously attacked the car.  The nerve.  But it got me thinking about my journey as a driver in the UK.

Of all the things I had to overcome when I moved to the UK, nothing scared me more than driving.  On the wrong side of the road, narrow windy roads, with roundabouts.  And REALLY narrow parking spaces.  The thought of having to get behind the wheel of a car and negotiate these new things while having absolutely no idea where I was going, well it made me afraid to leave the house.

And it’s not that I couldn’t drive.  With almost thirty years behind the wheel I’d describe myself as an experienced driver.  But it’s just that my instincts were always wrong.  Look left, no right!  You’re too close to the curb!  Watch out for the horse!

What benefited my driving the most was being thrown in the proverbial deep end.  I started work just a couple of weeks after I arrived in the UK and had to drive for my job.  I had no choice.  Odd given the ubiquitous public transportation system.  But the geography I covered was considerable and sometimes remote which meant that wasn’t really an option.  So within a week of setting foot in the UK, I was behind the wheel driving up the motorway into the outskirts of London and getting stuck in the Chiswick Roundabout.

I took a few driving lessons over the first couple of months.  Enough to give me some confidence and educate me on the UK road rules.  The law allowed me to drive on my US license for a year but eventually I had to bite the bullet and get a UK license.  This required taking a theory test and a practical on the road test.  I put these off forever waiting until the last-minute.  I was so scared of failure.  Plus, jeez, I was 16 the last time I took a driving test.  I panicked about the theory test but passed on the first go as I think you pick up enough common sense after thirty years of driving to take an educated guess at most questions.

But the practical, well, I cancelled or rescheduled this test so many times until I couldn’t procrastinate any longer.  And given the number cyclists and pedestrians you have to dodge in Oxford, I could not have chosen a worse place to take this test.  In the end, it took me two attempts at the notoriously difficult practical.

Now driving on the left has become as natural as driving on the right was.  I don’t think twice about getting behind the wheel and I even feel like I’ve got a license to complain about other drivers.  And I’ve mastered the Chiswick Roundabout.

What has all this taught me?

  • That the things you’re afraid of are never as bad as you imagine them.  Except for sharks and snakes.
  • That pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is the best way to grow as a person.
  • That getting thrown into the deep end and tackling a fear head on is the quickest way to get over it.
  • That overcoming our own internal critic is often far more difficult than actually doing the thing we’re afraid of.

Mark Twain once said:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

And while deep down I know all this and believe it I also know that some days I can’t get past the fear or the gremlins inside saying I can’t or shouldn’t do something.  Hopefully, the act of even writing this all down will remind me to throw off the bowlines more often and tell the gremlins to just sod off.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Auntie Su-Su May 3, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Fabulous!!!! Well said!!!!

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