Marriage Makes Safer Driving Habits?

Over the span of more than two decades as a licensed driver, I have been spared any major accidents. This is not to say that I haven't provided a few memorable opportunities for a traffic incident ... or two! However, as I reflect on the few mishaps that did occur, all of them occurred before I met and married my wife, Ronda. This made me wonder whether or not there is a connection between being married and my driving. My theory is that the combination of her alertness and my responsibility as provider for our family has made a positive difference.

This notion of having people around us who help us see what we would otherwise overlook is a good parallel to the rest of life. It doesn't matter whether you are driving a vehicle, figuring out how to excel in your work, managing family relationships or leading an organization, it is valuable to have others such as a co-worker, business leader, close friend, spouse, pastor, mentor or business advisor looking out for our good. A review of my teenage driving record serves to illustrate the principle.

My first vehicle mishap occurred on the way to church in my dad's car, after a rainstorm had caused some tall weeds to bend over the road. I discovered that even something that looked as light and harmless as a weed can swipe an electric telescoping antenna off a Ford T-bird! And as a result, I also discovered that those antennas were expensive to replace.

Many times in life we tend to minimize the effect that one small word or deed might have. By giving someone you trust (often one who is older or more experienced) the freedom to point out the eventual cost and outcomes associated with attitudes and actions that seem harmless to us, we can avoid getting mangled up later on. My wife and I still drive by that spot today and those same weeds grow back every summer, except today there are two of us on the lookout after a summer Sunday rain.

Soon after the weeds v. T-bird episode, I kept my guardian angels busy as I sailed through a stop sign that I never spotted because I was distracted in thought. I was on a first date heading to a high school banquet and thinking more about how to keep the conversation from uncomfortable stops than I was about noticing stop signs. Fortunately, no other vehicles were approaching, and tragedy was averted.

Today when my wife and I travel, I have the benefit of both comfortable conversation and another set of eyes to alert me to warning signs I might otherwise ignore or downplay. The same principle is true in pursuing business and personal success. At BEI, we value the insights that our advisors and independent directors share about the "signs" they see around us. Sometimes we can be so focused on what we think is important (like my days of worrying about making a good first impression on a young woman) that we miss a really important warning sign. This is why it is so important that we listen to those around us who have the courage to speak up.

Back to my teenage driving mishaps.

A year after I blew through that stop sign, I was driving on a narrow country road and misjudged how close I was to an oncoming van. The two vehicles clipped mirrors; the other driver's mirror broke completely off, and mine was dented. Of course, today I get unsolicited reminders from my wife when we're driving that sound a lot like this: "Keith, get over! That guy's in your lane! ... Hit the ditch!"

Sometimes life is like that too, where we simply don't recognize as plainly as the guy next to us how close we really are to danger. It could be a hazardous condition in the workplace, a poor attitude developing or an ethical lapse that requires action on our part to avoid a crash.

Continuing with my vehicle adventures ... I then bought my own car — a sporty one with good brakes. Maybe they were too good. Traffic stopped in front of me on Route 30 and so did I (at the last second), but not the vehicle behind me. That scenario actually happened twice in the same year and taught me the value of learning to look further ahead for clues about what's happening down the road. Now when I travel with my family, there are two of us keeping an eye on the horizon, plus three children that have started to read traffic signs and chime in.

The same is true in managing career and personal growth. Find and meet regularly with someone who can see what's occurring down the road and share advice on how to prepare for it. Maybe it is a leader at work who understands the skills you will need to learn in the next two years in order to progress. Perhaps it is a grandparent who lived through a financial crisis whom imparts the value of saving for a "rainy day."

Thankfully, other than my early years, my driving has been pretty uneventful. Well ... except the time that I squealed the tires and disturbed the peace in Terre Hill. The nearby officer was not as impressed as I was. The lesson of that incident: Sometimes you just need to let loose and have a little fun in life!