I would drive 500 miles and I drive 500 miles no more…..

As I sit in my garden office shaped like a beach hut at 05:50 watching the glorious sunrise over Chichester cathedral with the South Downs in the background I’m contemplating the 12th week of lockdown. I pour my tea and remind myself how lucky I am to be right here, right now.

My family are safely tucked up in bed, knowing that I’m in the garden, not in my car travelling miles to an appointment somewhere in the UK and worried that today might not be my day.

I ask myself a couple of questions.

Will the Covid 19 pandemic actually turn out to be the catalyst to reduce driver stress and in turn benefit us mentally, physically, environmentally and economically?

Did driving affect my wellbeing and add stress to me, my family and affect my performance at work?

I’ve always taken the mickey out of my wife for being risk-averse and told her not to worry about things that none of us can control. But what if that split second lack of concentration after 3 hours driving on the A34 or M40 on the way to Birmingham really did prove to be life changing or fatal?

Coming from an automotive sales background I was lucky to be driving my 4,000 miles a month in brand new vehicles, surrounded and protected with decent safety features plus a pretty good stereo.

Sometimes I’d get some peace and quiet with an overnight stay, occasionally I would question whether all the miles were worth it.

I used to watch drivers pass me at well over 80mph and think why and what if?

They can’t all be late for an appointment can they?

The white van mob amazed me, they must be on a time bonus and offsetting the risk against being caught or crashing?

My brother says the fastest vehicle on the road is a hire car, but I beg to differ.

What if they hit me?  What if I don’t make it home?  What will my family do?

All those thoughts and questions are forgotten once I reached my end destination.

As the miles, expenses and waistline increased, I wonder if looking back, was this start of me questioning my role within the organisation…. Probably. I did enjoy the role but the scales were on a constant tilt towards the negative.

The weekends were becoming shorter. Saturday was a day to de-stress and then Sunday afternoons was either spent driving to a hotel for Monday meetings or preparing for the week. No time for the family.

2012 ended with the one of the most bitter sweet months I’m hopefully ever going to encounter. In the space of a week my beautiful mother in law passed away and my gorgeous boy was born. If there was ever a time my family needed me, it was now.

In the couple of months leading up to this I remember taking calls or being told information when I arrived home which made me wish I was there at the time to be supportive. At the time my role didn’t allow me to work from home or have too much flexibility but that’s work life for most people.

Although I wasn’t driving around the country to the same amount as I ended up doing, I still had a drive of just over an hour each way. So when there was an emergency at home or I needed to be back at a certain time that time reduced to under an hour.

You do enter a different mind state. I did rush and of course everyone was driving slower with some standard lane hugging because getting home was more important than any other driver’s agenda on the road.  

Nothing mattered more at that particular time. Stress, risk and speed levels were higher than normal because I knew the timings were tight and I had committed to getting there.

As it always turned out I arrived in plenty of time and would have been okay if id driven normally.

We’ve all done it, but if like me you have escaped any major accidents or incidents then we need to be thankful. We also justify the reasons why we did it but at what cost?

After moving to another role which was nearer to home but still an hour each way every day, I made the decision to set up ‘Pinksauce’ and work from home. I’m able to take all the good things from my previous roles but work in my beach hut. It’s been a slow process and a different type of stress but I have reduced my mileage and driving commitments, thus lowering my risk. The better half was right but don’t tell her.

I drove in rush hour just before the lockdown and even in my nice safe Volvo I thought I’m glad I’m out of this. This morning my commute was 15 steps armed with my teapot making sure to dodge the hedgehog hotel and any cobwebs that might have appeared overnight.

What has Covid Lockdown taught me?

The only Zooming about I do currently is online meetings with family, friends, customers and business connections. But during one of these meetings with a friend the idea to write this blog came about.

Without going into too much detail I had been in chatting to ‘Dave’ regarding his general wellbeing over the last year. As one of my best and oldest friends it was difficult to hear the struggles he’d been dealing with. I was also a bit upset that he hadn’t felt comfortable in talking to me earlier.

To understand our relationship and how we love each other, we have known each other near on 40 years. So nothing escapes our childlike minds and the ease of taking the mick out of anything even the darkest moments.

One line I’ve always used is

‘You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as hard’

I picked this up from one of the many sales seminars I have attended, but in today’s society I think it’s more prevalent than ever, cutting though the constant noise to get to the important stuff. For years I’ve used it as part of my sales technique until I was recently chatting to a psychologist and he uses the same line.

As Dave and I talked, the issue of work life balance kept cropping up. From the outside I thought his balance looked great. A family man with a welcoming house and decent cup of tea always available. Like me we both have our office in the garden, working from home, with interesting clients and a company that appreciates his efforts.

Don’t forget the nice executive car on the driveway too with lots of miles on the clock.

Our characters are very similar and we both love meeting people or having an audience. We love making a sale and celebrating our success but as we age the driving 100’s miles a week was a major talking point. He could be in his car 6 hours just to meet a client for an hour and that’s without any incidents or stress. Something I can relate to.

Even driving defensively and with the best planning, the Sat Nav anxiety and calls from clients, whilst on route adds to the pressure of the journey.  You never want to be late for a meeting especially a first one. So Dave would counter this by leaving really early to arrive on time and leave wiggle room.

He found that the alarm clock was going off earlier and earlier which meant less time at home and more stress on him and the family. He needs those sales or the potential to secure them at another meeting to provide the lifestyle and choices.

Family life is hard enough without work but due the nature and scale of his work paired with someone who genuinely cares, something had to give. Luckily for the family, Dave made the right decision to seek help before the ultimate wrong one.

When your best friend tells you the situation was so bad he was thinking of just driving off the road or jumping in front of a train because he didn’t want to wake up the next day and feel that way again.

My thoughts are this.

If the pandemic can encourage businesses and employers to evaluate how we conduct ourselves in the current health and economic climate there may be a chance everyone will benefit.

One hopes that this will reduce road rage, accidents, traffic jams, fuel prices, carbon footprint, driver stress, and many more things.

The main benefits would be increased wellbeing for employees who currently drive as part of their role and their families.  I see the change in Dave whilst in lockdown, working remotely, less time on the road and back to having a laugh at my expense and our other two partners in crime during our weekly Sunday Zoom.

In relation to my business it might sound strange that I would want people to reduce their mileage or drive less but it has its benefits.

Lower miles also means lower payments and more choice of vehicles plus as we move over to full electric the range anxiety may start to reduce too. But that’s a whole other blog right there.

So as I recall our conversations and write this, tears rolling down my face, I chuckle because knowing Dave he’d choose a station that was at the end of a line but he would also have a full fare ticket.

My other thought was if crashing the car was his way to end everything, based on my advice he is driving one of the safest cars on the market…… Thanks Pinky

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