You Are Not Your Car (But You Kind of Are...)

by Bianca Neff, Executive Director

My poor car is crying for attention.

On top of the regular insurance payments and the technical inspection costs, it's also requiring additional work, which of course means more € out of my pocket.

It's a great little car, a 2003 Opel Corsa and I love it because it's simple, hard-working and doesn't ask hardly anything from me.

But when it needs help, I'm often not ready for it. And right now, these things have all converged at the same time... I'm feeling annoyed.

It's not my car's fault, but I'm annoyed anyway.

So what's going on inside me to annoy me? It's as if I expect this vehicle to last to infinity with nothing more than a full gas tank and some oil changes. Even though I know in my mind that this thing requires regular maintenance (and that I should set aside some money each month for the care I know my wonderful little car eventually will require of me), my emotional response has little to do with what I know. It has much more to do with what I as the driver want, or what I think is best for me -- not my vehicle -- at the moment.

My annoyance at my car's needs could mean one of two things:

1) Its exemplary past behavior of excellent reliability disqualifies this little machine from the right to get regular maintenance (or more expensive intervention when necessary).

2) My car's excellent reliability has caused me to become spoiled.

I think it's pretty obvious that I've become spoiled.


Peacebuilders Need Maintenance, Too

You're asking: What's this got to do with me?

The link to peacebuilding professionals as beings needing maintenance -- always regular, and sometimes serious -- couldn't have been more clear as I sat staring at my car and pondering my adverse reaction to its declaration of its needs.

I have a few things to say about this, imagining you as both the driver and the vehicle of your own life.


You as the driver

The driver is the voice that says "I can't believe you're breaking down on me now, are you serious?! This is terrible timing. I have no money to deal with your mechanics. Your needs are stressing me out more than I'm already stressed out. You need to stay in operation regardless of what's going on inside, there's simply no capacity to consider other options. I'm really sorry."

We all know, of course, that the driver's circumstances don't change the fact that the vehicle needs attention in order to continue functioning and serving the driver.

Here's the thing: The driver's wishes and expectations are almost always too high.

To complicate matters, they are often connected to work and to other people's expectations of you (that is, from other external drivers).

The driver has a choice to make: Take care of the problem by finding the resources to cover the perfectly appropriate costs, or take a gamble and continue driving, realizing that the clock is now ticking.

This is the driver side of you.

Now what about you as the vehicle?


You As the Vehicle

The vehicle is the voice saying, "Something isn't right." Maybe it's not shouting; may it's only whispering. Whatever the case, the vehicle side of you could be any number of components:

Your Brain: "I'm not functioning well mentally, something is definitely wrong.”

Your Body: "I'm not getting younger and the physical demands placed on me are not letting up; how long can I keep this up?"

Your Soul/Spirit: "The work isn't what it used to be; I am not who I used to be; I don't like who I'm becoming (or have become).”

Your Heart: "My significant life-giving relationships are being affected by this pace; either I change something or I will regret it one day.”

The voice of the vehicle inside you can come from the many different things you are driving in order to meet the driver's expectations.

And here's the thing about the vehicle's needs: They are almost always exactly what they need to be, in line with how we are designed and built.

Like I said, the vehicle's voice may be a small whisper, and only you recognize it when you hear it. But then again, maybe you don't! Quite often, the people around you recognize your vehicle's needs even before you do. The driver in us, with our fears of failure and high expectations, would love to just ignore the vehicle's voice. And subconsciously we do, frequently, over and over again.

We'd do well to listen to the key people in our lives to help us with our own awareness. Pay attention to what those around you are saying about your vehicle's needs. (And I'm not talking about your boss, I'm talking about your best friend.)



When it comes to the costs involved in keeping the various elements of our vehicles in good condition, the driver's voice of protest in most of us is loud and clear. We don't want to be disciplined in self-care. We don't want to have to take time off from our work, duties and free time to care for the invisible undersides -- our hearts, our souls, the unseen physical processes -- that are negatively impacted by high-stress work.

The driver responds by saying there are no financial, mental or emotional resources to deal with it. We say, "Sorry, but maintenance is a luxury I can't afford. Besides, you're not totally crumbling apart yet, are you? Enough with the whining."


...But Your Vehicle Will Make Itself Heard Anyway!

The next time your car breaks down (after years of faithful service, no doubt, when you've barely paid any mind to proactively taking care of its insides this whole time), see what kind of response you get from it with the above rationale.

I can just hear my own car's response in my mind:

"You don't expect to continue driving me with this flat tire and the eventual damaged rim, do you? And you complain that fixing my timing belt is a luxury you can't afford? Sorry, but I'm not moving an inch until these basic things are taken care of to my satisfaction. And it's not because I don't love you or want to serve you (I've always thought you were awesome) but the fact is, mechanically I was not built to go on like this. I literally cannot. And you shouldn't expect me to."


Are You Not Worth Infinitely More Than a Machine?

This leads to the most important question of all:

If we as human beings understand that our cars were built in a certain way and require maintenance, what stops us from providing our own self-vehicles with the same necessary care? We who are intrinsically so much more valuable and with a mission that is so much more important?

What stops us from stewarding the vehicles of our person -- body, mind, soul, spirit -- with the same dedication that we give to our work and other areas of our life outside us? 

Do we really believe, as Gandhi said, that we must be the change we wish to see in the world? I find this to be really important for peacebuilding. Why? Because ignoring the voice of our own vehicle means that we likely aren't attuned to hear it well in those we seek to help and serve...and how effective will that be in the long run?


The Inner Struggle

Why is it such a struggle, such a fight between our demanding internal driver and the suffering vehicle? Those answers, among others, often come out through the coaching conversations we have here at Petra. They can be deeply revelatory.

Lots of people ignore the vehicle's voice, until one day the sh*t hits the fan and you have a proper crisis on your hands. This is why wise people pay attention to all the voices. Here at Petra, we work with people who value the vehicle's voice. Together we'll forge a path that keeps your vehicle in good condition so that the driver in you can get to where you need to go.

Both are equally important: The driver and the vehicle. Without the driver, there's no vision and you're not going anywhere. But never forget that without the vehicle, you're stuck taking the bus, or hitchhiking, or walking...or even crawling if it gets bad enough.

Walking might not kill you, but it certainly doesn't accelerate your work or your mission when your car isn't working the way it was intended to due to lack of proper maintenance.

So what kind of balance are you striking today in this important area?