I have often wondered just how much of my life has been spent stopped at red traffic lights. I was driving to the airport very early the other morning, long before any traffic was on the road, and yet, I managed to get stopped at every red light I came upon. I remember as I approached the last light before entering the interstate, thinking, at last, the very last red light.
I’m in Fairbanks, Alaska for a little vacation right now, visiting my love. He lives outside of Fairbanks a distance but has a business in town. When we are in town we are stopped at red lights for what seems unnecessarily long amounts of time for the amount of cars in this town. As we head towards the remote area we live in, he expresses his relief at finally passing the last red light. So, I am not the only one who pays close attention to impediments to progress along the roadway.
I know, red lights are necessary, but annoying. Stopping at a red light, losing momentum and having to come to a complete stop represents such a waste of energy. Having to accelerate back up to cruising speed repeatedly while driving in town massacres your fuel economy. As we know, this is why the difference in mileage can differ so between city and highway driving.
Not stopping at a red light is not really an option; there is both peril and penalty associated with it. I remember back in high school, driving around with my friends very late at night, we thought it was hilarious to stop at green lights and cruise slowly through red lights. It is a wonder we survived our youth when I think back to our various antics. Of course, we lived in a rather sleepy little town, even sleepier then than it is now, especially in the wee hours of the morning. Now, like many other municipalities, Napa has the photo-enforced red lights. They just got them a year or so ago. It was big news and still warrants quite a bit of excited discussion, like the weather or the newest restaurant to open somewhere in town, a nearly daily occurrence, much like the weather, and red lights. I’ve been dealing with photo-enforced traffic signals in Sacramento for many, many years. I know the drill; stop, or else. Or else to the tune of $450. That’s the penalty, the peril is a whole different story. In smaller municipalities, lights are often controlled by a sensor, when a car triggers the sensor, the light will change shortly thereafter. In larger cities, traffic flow is a high science and lights are strategically timed and in harmony with other lights along the route to ensure the most efficient flow of thousands of cars, day and night.
What do you do at red lights? We all use, or waste, the time in our own fashion. Some people, and I have borne witness to this, use the time to pick their noses, others to lapse into deep thought, or discipline the children, pet the dog, stare ahead without thought, drum their fingers impatiently while staring at the red light with an attitude of pissed off impatience. I usually try to accomplish something; answer a text, change the Pandora station I’m listening to, update my shopping list in my notes section of my iPhone, buy the songs I bookmarked from iTunes, reorganize my purse. I mean, I pay attention to the light, I am usually the first one “off the line” when the light turns green. I am just not one of those that can let those seconds go by without having something to show for it. Perhaps it’s a compulsion, I can’t help it.
When I was a kid I loved to roller skate. I still do. Growing up in Napa we had an old skating rink in town until I was in junior high. I used to spend as many weekends there as I could, skating and skating and skating. They would have free skate sessions, broken up every so often with a game, like the hokey pokey or limbo, or, one of my favorites, red light green light. With red light green light, the skaters would all line up against the back wall. The announcer would call out green light and we’d all skate forward. When the announcer called “red light”, we’d all have to come to a complete and instant stop. If you were caught moving after the call was made, you were disqualified from the game. First of all, it was really hard to stop, instantly, with four wheels on the bottom of each foot, but once you stopped, it was even harder to get going again. The object of the game, of course, was to not be disqualified, but also, to be the first across the finish line. Since it was a race, getting back up to speed after being stopped was the real trick. The stakes were high, a free item from the snack bar!
There are many aspects of life that are no different than red lights, and green lights. Relationships, careers or school, health, lifestyle; they are all as de-energized by having to stop, by red lights, as are cars or roller skaters. And how fast they get back up to speed, or the direction in which they head when the light turns green again will vary.
In a relationship, especially a new one, things may be progressing quite nicely, both parties are excited and are devoting a lot of energy to the new romance. If there aren’t expectations of how things should progress, there are, at least hopes of how the relationship will continue at the same momentum. However, as a relationship matures, it is completely impossible for the same energy, enthusiasm and momentum to continue once the novelty has worn off. While not a red light, there is usually a yellow light, a period of caution. Each relationship time line will differ based on about a million different factors, but, once the newness has worn off and the parties involved have become fairly comfortable with one another, but before they’ve really become a team or a solid partnership, that’s when the light turns yellow. It is natural, it is really the only expectation you should have of a relationship, that there will be a point in time, somewhere between “new” and “long-term” where you go “I just don’t know”. Some relationships will hit a red light at this point and fail, out of confusion, fear or just a realization that it wasn’t meant to be. When the light turns green, one party turns right, the other turns left and they venture off on their own. Other relationships will wait out the red light, both parties taking stock of everything, and when the light turns green, they venture down the highway together. Again, it may take a little while to gain momentum again, and it will likely be at a different speed and velocity than “in the beginning”, but having taken advantage of that caution period, and the pause at the red light, to really think things through, the relationship flourishes, the parties have experience in handling those occasional bumps, potholes and, yes, even red lights, as they are bound to happen again and again throughout the course of the partnership.
With careers or school, we often take off at full throttle in our chosen field of employment or study. We’ve likely spent a great deal of resources to get where we are; considerable time in school up to this point, a considerable monetary investment, no doubt, and a lot of energy. Often, again, once the “honeymoon period” has elapsed, we usually hit a red light and wonder, is this really what I want to do for a living for the rest of my life, is this really the field of employment, the field of study I want to devote all of these resources to. And again, when the light turns green, hopefully you’ve taken advantage of that pause to seriously consider all the options, all the factors and make a sound decision to continue straight down the road, or to turn another direction. Just like a relationship, it is best to continue straight through the intersection on the green light only if you are still feeling committed love, because divorcing a career is not much easier than divorcing someone you married out of folly.
There are a lot of people out there living less than healthy lifestyles. Really, I don’t think anyone the whole world over, is leading a 100% healthy lifestyle. In other words, there is always room for improvement. There is always new information available about the choices we can make that impact our health. Some folks endeavor to improve the healthfulness of their lifestyle, prompted by a medical development, or pressure from a partner or family member, or just because New Year’s came along, but without self-motivation, without intent, once they hit that first red light, their efforts falter and when the light turns green, they often do a U-turn and head right back where they came from. Replacing unhealthy habits with healthy habits is probably one of the hardest things a person can endeavor to do. I think it’s probably more difficult than leaving an ill-fated, long-term relationship. I’ve done both, I speak from experience, but that may just be the case for me. We all drive a different model of car on a different roadway, I suppose. Again, what you do at those red lights when they stop you in your tracks is what’s going to make the difference. Unlike the moment for discernment with a relationship or a career or field of study choice, with the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, the pause shouldn’t be where we consider whether we’ve made the right choice in making the journey, but whether we are taking the right route. We should instead be deciding how best to get there. Take a moment to read the travel guides, the maps, and figure out how to navigate there in a manner that will best suit our needs.
There are many things we can do to improve our lives other than just get healthier. We can, of course, make an effort to evolve in many, many ways; relationships, spirituality, creativity, self-confidence, success in school, work, entrepreneurship, or any other worthy goal or goals you strive for. Any time we are striving for achievement, for growth, for evolution, we are going to hit red lights, we are going to encounter a temporary immobilization where we are going to have to make the effort to get focused and get under way again, on the road to the goals we set. I guess, being the queen of analogies, I’d have to say, making the journey to a more self-improvement is all about the path your choose to get there. You should get there, no doubt, and once you begin your journey you should never stop your journey. It’s all about the coordinates you enter into your Tom Tom and the route you ultimately take. I know when I enter a destination into my Tom Tom and it attempts to take me down a road I’d rather not go, I’ll go the way I’d prefer and eventually, Tom Tom and I align paths. I didn’t make a U-turn, I kept going on a slightly altered path. Have you ever come upon a red light and decided to turn down a side street, or, yes, cut through the gas station to circumvent it? That’s what you should do when you hit a red light with healthy lifestyle changes; keep going, alter your path if it makes sense, but keep heading towards the destination!
So, as you sit at the next red light you hit, whether an actual traffic signal or a metaphorical red light, don’t pick your nose or stare off into space an drool, take a moment to seriously reflect on where you are, where you want to be, consider the direction you’re headed and where you ultimately want to be. Once that light turns green, whether you’ve decided to turn, circumvent traffic by changing your route or to stay the course, do so with intent and you’ll get to the destination you seek.