‘You are only lost if you run out of petrol’

Amanda Davey ponders how a change in perspective can be all we need to battle adversity. 

Amanda Davey Profile picture

Amanda Davey

Tilia Services

‘You’re only lost if you run out of petrol’. This was a surprising comment made by a retired coach driver colleague, but it carries rich truths. Especially if you’re running your own business. We make mistakes and groan. But in the making of those mistakes, we learn valuable lessons. Most often we need to have learned them in time for when there is no chance to learn them fast enough.

Travelling and taking a wrong turning can mean a frustrated series of swearwords, but also better knowledge of where you are. So many times I have needed to know how a network of roads work when stuck in a traffic jam or trying to find somewhere more obscure than I imagined.

This ties in with another of my go-to pat phrases. ‘To travel is better than to arrive.’ A sort of compressed Robert Louis Stevenson. I could rattle off a whole raft of stories to back that one up. A favourite is when a Morris Minor and a sportscar went from Wiltshire to Glasgow. They left at the same time. The sportscar arrived a couple of hours earlier than the Morris Minor, as you would expect. But the passengers of the faster car had been so stressed by the journey that they could only go to bed, while the Morris Minor passengers were able to paint the town red from their calmer ride.

Morris Minor

Pay attention to the journey

When you work for yourself or run a small business there is so much pressure to focus on the results that often it’s hard to notice the process and the journey. But in our haste for success and acclaim do we always take the time to learn what it is that we’re doing so that we know next time what to do, how to do it calmly and efficiently? Do we know how to enjoy the tasks?

I write books and I take photographs. It is a life choice borne from finding a creative life more rewarding than an oppressed service life. A current work in progress is about a painting that could have been hugely valuable and netted us millions as a family. It turns out not to be, but the investigation has made life much richer. I have also fallen in love with the painting, so losing her from the family would have been a grieving process even with millions to share.

The journey of discovering the sitter’s story has taken some fascinating wrong turnings and the ‘petrol’ of the passion to discover more has been increased rather than diminished by what I have found out. The fact that her story aligns with ours as she lived in plague years adds yet another layer of fascination. 

Reframe your story

Life coaches refer to the abstract concept of ‘mindset’. Realising that there are things to be gained from experiences that don’t seem ideal is so liberating that it settles conceptually into ‘mindset’. But I would suggest that the reality is less formulaic and more individual – that everyone has their own journey and their own pace.

In the first book that I published, my grandfather’s autobiography, he describes a period of two years where he was working on a stressful job that taught him more than other civil engineers learn in an entire career. He was in his early 30s, my father was a toddler so he was probably also having to cope with disturbed nights.

Waterside battery

During this job he had men suffocate in nitrogen gas, a diver explode out of the mud and then have it all land on top of him (this one survived) and a site fire that no engine could get to because the mud was too soggy. They nearly flooded the south of Essex as they were constructing an enormous battery on the north shore of the Thames and it nearly breached. He had a boss who wouldn’t allow him enough men to work on the job because he kept them all to himself.

Bits of the battery had collapsed the day before he was given that job to manage. Historic wooden piles got clogged in the machinery because nobody knew they were there. But he looked back on that job with pride. The battery became an icon on the Thames for decades and everything was working. He had learned so much that for the rest of his career he was able to draw on the lessons in tact, man management, practicality and pragmatism from this job, let alone the erratic behaviour of London clay. He thankfully did not run out of ‘petrol’, although I think there were more times than he would admit when it seemed likely.

Keep calm and carry on

Mindset. Or should that be attitude? Either way, I consider it a calmer approach to things maybe not going according to plan. Of course, one horrible thing not going to plan has been the pandemic. It’s still a problem. Still a stress. There is still brain fog. But for those who have stayed safe from the virus or have thankfully recovered from it, there have been positives and there will be more to come. I have found the knowledge that Sir Isaac Newton described the speed of gravity and invented calculus during his own time avoiding the plague to be hugely stabilising. Men may not yet have got to the moon without either. Maybe someone else would have done it, but that is not a given.

In the hurly burly of life it’s often difficult to see things from a different, wider, perspective. We are constantly driving ourselves forward, forward, forward. A bit like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, the rushing about can mean that we lose focus of what we are doing. When we make mistakes we curse and swear and feel SO STUPID!

But actually we are learning and we are journeying forwards. When we look backwards, how many times have the better things happened after the mistakes and all the things that went smoothly have just become transparent?

Keep Calm and Carry On. The wartime slogan that resurfaced to help us through the 2008 crisis. But it is still valid now. Keep calm, look out of the window and enjoy the ride! That journey of discovery gives you so much and sometimes even tops up the ‘petrol’ that helps us to cope.

Header Photo by Atle Mo on Unsplash.

Further images provided by Amanda Davey. 

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