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Learning to drive on the wrong side of the road

When I was 16 years old I spent the summer traveling around Australia with my family. 

One particular day stands out vividly in my memory. It was early on in the trip, and we had spent an afternoon deep in the rainforest and were beginning our drive back to our cozy ant-infested apartment in the city. 

Dad was driving our little red minivan. In a momentary lapse of focus, he pulled out of a visitor center into the right lane of the winding coastal highway: a near-fatal mistake born from three-plus decades of American driving. We only realized we were in the ‘wrong’ lane when an oncoming vehicle came around the corner at 60 kph. 

We survived. My dad made whatever mental adjustment he needed to make, and proceeded to drive us safely around the country for the rest of the summer.

After that incident, I remember offering to drive. I was a brand new driver, but I somehow knew I would have no problem making the adjustment to driving on the left side of the road. It’s not that I thought I was a better driver than my dad, it was simply that everything about driving was still a conscious process for me. It made me nervous to think that our driver was sitting on deeply engrained driving habits that might get us killed down here on the other side of the world. I wasn’t fighting any such habits; I hadn’t built them yet.

My dad declined my offer graciously but firmly, and I understood. I saw how risky it must have seemed to hand the wheel to a newby. But I also knew I could have done it. I would have been making a conscious decision at every single turn. I knew I could keep us safely on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.

Looking back, I realize the universal truth of that day in the rainforest—it is the same truth that makes it so hard to bust a plateau as an experienced climber, or to change our eating habits as adults, or to change how we behave in relationships after we’ve been through many:

Sometimes being experienced means we have a lot more to unlearn than someone who is new.

More humility to quiet an experienced ego, 

More intention to reverse stubborn habits,

More vulnerability to wear beginner’s shoes;

But at the end of the day, the same opportunity to become different than we were before.