Lessons Learned from (Repeated Viewings of) “Cars”

Lightning McQueen is in a hurry. The rookie race car needs to get to California to try and woo Dinoco ahead of the big Piston Cup showdown. He’s in such a hurry that he tries to cut corners and winds up creating a huge mess for himself.

Any parent of a child born in the past 10 years is likely to be intimately familiar with Lightning’s travels and travails. In our house, “Cars” is usually demanded at least once a day and is watched at least a few times a week. We can almost quote the film verbatim.

And through those incessant, repeated viewings, I have discovered a connection to my own life in Lightning’s eagerness and desire to get a jump on his competition. It’s a lesson that I have had to learn over and and over again in my life and has come with a price in terms of money, health and opportunity. It’s a life lesson that Lightning will — hopefully — pass on to my kids.

Flashback — 1996. I’m a graduate student carrying a full course load and working two part-time jobs, barely making ends meet. One morning I rushed from school to work, eating my lunch in the car while I drove, possibly ran a red light (the cops thought it was possible that the traffic light malfunctioned) and got hit by a car. I was fine and thankfully, so were the people in the other car. But I was shaken. In my haste to get to work and cram in a meal, I failed to be safe. I could have been seriously injured and so could the other people involved.

Flashback — 1999. With a full-time job and some free time, I decided to return to one of my first loves and get involved in community theater. It was my fortune that a director cast me in the demanding lead role of a musical. It was a dream come true but also a major challenge — continue succeeding at my job while singing, dancing and acting my way through a performance 6 times a week. One night in the middle of a performance, my back went out. Badly. I herniated a disk in my lower back that required surgery. In my haste to prepare quickly for the show, I failed to properly warm-up my body.

There are more moments in my life that are not as significant but equally as excruciating. There are moments when I rush to get out the door and stub my toe, spill my drink or drop my laptop. There are moments when I rush to get a job done around the house and make more of a mess than I had when I started. There are moments when I rush to get somewhere for work and invariably encounter horrible drivers and red lights my entire trip. It’s almost like Karma is behind the wheel, teaching me to slow down, whether I like it or not.

And that’s what happened to Lightning. He wound up in an unfamiliar and strange place, desperate to get out. But life was telling him that that was where he belonged. He had to slow down. That happens to me again and again, like when my back pain flares up. It’s life’s way of saying, “Hey bro. Take a breather.”

I used to carry around a fortune from a fortune cookie with me that read “Your ability to juggle many tasks will take you far.” That sentence fits me to a tee. One of my best attributes is my ability to take on multiple responsibilities, organize them, prioritize them and accomplish them. It has served me well in my job as a journalist, juggling stories, sources and trying to meet deadlines. But sometimes I need to remember the immortal words of Lightning McQueen — “It’s nice to slow down every once in a while.”

That’s right, Lightning. Savor the moment you’re in and enjoy the ride.

How about you? Are there moments where life teaches you to slow down, like Lightning McQueen?

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The Beginning
About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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