A man in a taxi wanted to speak to the driver so he leaned forward and tapped him on the shoulder. The driver screamed, jumped up in the air and yanked the wheel over. The car jumped the curb, demolished a lamppost and came to a stop inches from a shop window.
The startled passenger said, “I didn’t mean to frighten you, I just wanted to ask you something.”
The taxi driver says “It’s not your fault, sir. It’s my first day as a cab driver…I’ve been driving a hearse for the past 25 years.”
Since I first heard this story a few months ago I’ve been using it to open every talk I’ve given and every workshop I’ve led. And I’m going to keep it up. It’s one of those jokes that have been around for a while, I’m sure. But it never fails to get a big laugh and it has proven to be a great way to open up one of the most challenging conversations we can have: how well equipped are we for the realities of change?
I have great affection for this taxi driver. I imagine him as a guy who woke up one day and realized after years of loyal service that he was no longer fulfilled by his work, no longer able to find in it what he needed to stimulate his imagination and ignite his sense of possibility.
I imagine that, in a very real way, he decided it was time to rejoin the living.
I imagine him enthusiastically sorting out all of the details of his new employment, anticipating the variety of people he would meet, the places he would go and the experiences he would witness. I don’t imagine him considering for even a moment just how big a shock to the system it would be to have a passenger lean forward and tap him on the shoulder.
A single tap on the shoulder forced him to let go of the past and wake up to the here and now in an immediate, uncomfortable and essential way.
I think about my decision to move to Chicago after college, the excitement of my first job dissipating in the hazy asphalt of interstate 80 as the realization that I was all alone settled into the seat beside me. Tap.
I think about moving to northern California as a young married couple in search of something new, something romantic, something that would jumpstart my professional life, only to my find that my lack of direction, a sharp lack of knowing who or what I was to become, was in full supply there, too. Tap.
I think about reconciling myself to the loss of a friendship that I believed would stand the test of time. Tap.
I think about the audience of six people I almost wrote off as a waste of my time only to have one of them turn into my biggest client of the year. Tap.
The more I consider these experiences – these reunions of expectation and reality – the deeper my conviction grows that the way to anticipate them, to welcome them and to work with them is to stay in an open and honest conversation with myself.
That conversation must include a combination of high expectation – the belief in possibility – and high regard for the universal truth that as soon as we pull away from the curb we become a bold invitation to the shaping hand of reality.
Drive on. Stay alert.
The tap is coming.
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well.