A man was driving down the highway, maybe more than a bit too fast, weaving his car through traffic to make up some time so he wouldn’t be late for an appointment.  As usual, there were too many people in the left lane, trying to be in the “fast lane” but ultimately going too slow for him, when he spotted some open space in the right lane to pass this gaggle of slowpokes.

brakesThe man swerved over to the right lane and floored the accelerator until suddenly — ugh! — a car came into the lane right in front of him from a nearby entrance ramp, practically coming out of nowhere.  The problem was that the car now ahead of the man was traveling at least 30-40 miles-per-hour slower than he was.

The man stomped on his brakes, pushing him into his now-locked seat belt, and as his head jerked forward with the sudden loss of momentum, he muttered a silent prayer that his brakes were good enough to avoid a crash.

See, the other problem was that the man’s car needed new brakes, desperately.  The last time he took the car into the shop for an oil change, the mechanic told him he was getting close to the red zone, but that he would probably be fine until the next oil change, assuming he drove normally.

What was normal perhaps for the mechanic was definitely not normal for the man, though.  His imitation of a NASCAR driver played out pretty much the same every day, every mile of every trip.  And his car now was way overdue for that oil change and definitely for those new brakes.

But fate smiled on the man this day:  Despite all odds, the brakes held up, and he came within just inches of the bumper of the car ahead of him before it picked up enough speed to increase the gap between them.  When he started breathing again after more than a few seconds, the man considered what had just happened.

Bottom line:  He got lucky.  He took an impetuous risk that put him in some real danger.  He almost crashed.  And, after all that, he still hadn’t succeeded in passing any slower-moving cars.  All in all, a pretty dumb move.

The lesson here?  The most obvious one is that you shouldn’t let your brakes get so bad that they cause you to almost crash your car, right?

Maybe, but maybe not.

How many times have you encountered situations in your writing or marketing or business development — or just something involving your personal life — where you knew you needed “new brakes” but took some risks anyway?  Was it worth it?  Did you crash?

We all need new brakes sometimes.  We get to the point where the things that keep us from hurting ourselves are worn down by overuse and underappreciation.  Our ability to assess risks and reliably manage them gets to the point where we could fail, with potentially disastrous consequences.  And in life, there is no emergency brake.

Our brakes don’t keep us from taking chances; in fact, they can encourage them and help save us when things start going out of control.  Sometimes like in the story here, even when the brakes are oh-so-close to failing, they can still work to protect us.  Even if we ultimately don’t get what we were aiming for.

But aside from ameliorating risks, our brakes must be ready to go when we’re inspired, like I talked about in Wednesday’s post.  Without our own brakes, our inspiration might just go driving us off the proverbial cliff.

My brakes are my wife and my kids.  What are your brakes?  Are they something as simple as a regime of daily exercise or meditation?  Or something a little more complicated, like the work needed to nurture a relationship?  They could also be the devotion to raising kids or caring for a pet, I bet.  You get the point…

We all have things that inspire us, and, thankfully, we all have the brakes necessary to slow us down and prevent us from crashing.  But we can’t forget to check those brakes on a regular basis.  And repair or replace them as needed.

If you haven’t guessed already, I got the brakes replaced on my car yesterday.  Cost $848 for a complete overhaul of all four, including the rotors (which don’t always have to be fixed, by the way).  A small price to pay for safety and peace of mind.

Now I can go back to imitating that NASCAR driver, so please, stay out of the left lane.

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