“And why should we feel anger at the world? As if the world would notice!”
“Life is a long lesson in humility.”
– J.M. Barrie
Life is not easy. It’s also not fair. Often, it’s not even logical.
We sometimes forget this. When we do, the universe is more than happy to remind us.
For me, this happened a few nights ago.
It had been a good day. My wife and I had dropped our daughter off at her first day of kindergarten. Then, I had enjoyed a productive day at the office, even sitting in some pretty important meetings with some pretty important people. I had even received several compliments on my outfit. Now, I was leaving the office, excited to hear all about the kid’s first day.
It was all good and I was feeling good.
It’s not that I was feeling arrogant or overconfident – I was simply walking to my car to drive home – but I wasn’t prepared for anything bad or unplanned to happen. I wasn’t even considering that possibility. That’s hubris. Why should everything go right for us? Who are we to be so vain to expect all of our plans – let alone our goals and dreams – to succeed?
I slid into my car, inserted the key in the ignition, and turned it. Nothing. No lights, no dings, nothing.
Huh, I thought. That’s weird.
I tried again. And again. And again. Still nothing.
I couldn’t figure it out. It was obviously the battery, but how? It’s not like I had left my lights o—
Then, all at once, it hit me. The morning had been misty and grey. I remembered debating with myself whether to turn on my headlights and finally deciding it was the safe choice. Then, I remembered that when I had pulled into the parking lot, the Sun had broken through the clouds and the morning was suddenly bright. I parked and turned off the engine. But I was listening to Skyzoo in my earbuds, so I didn’t hear the ding-ding-ding of the car informing me that my lights were still on. I slammed the door and made my way into the office. As I sat through those meetings, those lights stayed on, the battery draining away.
I began berating myself for my stupidity. I like to think of myself as a pretty intelligent person, but no matter how many degrees you have, how much you read, or how much success you’ve enjoyed, it doesn’t take much to make you feel like a moron.
I called for roadside assistance and was told they’d arrive within the hour. It’s a gated lot, patrolled by security, so I’d have to meet him at the gate and let the driver in.
Cool, I thought. There was about an hour of daylight left, so I’d just chill in the car and read. May as well make the most of it. Besides, when else do I get a full hour of uninterrupted time?
After seventy-five minutes, as dusk was settling in, I called to check and was put on hold for more than five minutes before being told the driver was running late and would be there in a half-hour. They offered to call a different company, but informed me that it would take upwards of an hour, so it wouldn’t do much good. I said I’d just wait.
I waited another forty-five minutes, watching as the lot slowly emptied. No word. I FaceTime’d with the kid, thinking she could debrief me that way, but it only led to hysterical crying because I wasn’t home. It was now quite dark. I was frustrated, angry at myself, hungry, and tired. I decided to get out and stretch my legs. As I did so, I noticed the flashing lights of the security jeep that guards the entrance to the lot. It suddenly occurred to me that security could help me – could have helped me two hours ago, in fact.
I walked over and told the security officer my predicament. “I called for roadside assistance, like, two hours ago,” I said.
With no emotion, he responds, “Oh, you’ll wait forever. They’re not coming here. They don’t want to risk their life.” (I don’t work in the safest of neighborhoods, but it’s not that bad.)
He said a few code words into his radio and turned to me and said, “He’s gotta get the machine. It’ll take a few minutes.”
By the time I walked back to my car, another security vehicle was approaching. He got out, carrying an instant power jump starter. He hooked it up to my battery and asked me to try to start the car.
It came to life immediately. I thanked him and he said it was no problem, adding, “The machine does all the work.”
I could have done that immediately. I could have been home in time for dinner. I didn’t need to spend two hours in a dead car as night fell like I was a character in Cujo. My dumb mistake of leaving my lights on was compounded by my even dumber mistake of being passive and waiting for help when help was literally in front of my face the entire time.
I drove home feeling really stupid, my really good day suddenly dampened.
Then, I realized something: this was actually a good thing. I needed this to set me straight. The problem is not that I made a stupid mistake (or two) – we all make mistakes – but that I was not prepared for the possibility that I could make a stupid mistake. I was so caught off-guard that I didn’t stop to think about the best way to face the situation and simply reacted.
When we get a little too comfortable, we need the universe to remind us that we’re not infallible and our plans are not destiny.
Sometimes the only way out is through, and sometimes that journey is through a tunnel of our own stupidity.
Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.