“You don’t have to stay in your lane when it comes to friendship or ideas.” — Will.i.am
The expression “stay in your lane” is kind of the newer, nicer version of “butt out” or “none of your business,” and while it sounds more diplomatic, must we always stay in our lane and out of the business of others?
Staying in your lane reminds me of the slot-car race-track sets my brother had growing up. He’d spend hours assembling one, connecting the wires, attaching the cars to their slots, and setting them off. I never realized then that each controller was precisely the same; the vehicles were on the same set of wires. So, all that would ever happen was they’d circle the track a few times. Maybe there would be a “crash” if one of the cars hit a snag, but otherwise, it wasn’t that exciting.
If the wires were loose in one slot, that car wouldn’t go anywhere, while another sports car could zip around endlessly as long as the wires were intact. If the batteries died in one controller, the person using the other one with the good batteries would win. Having a lane implies that we are all separate and going our own way, but it’s not that much fun just zipping around on our own.
As with so many concepts, it’s a question of degree. How far do we go into another’s area? If I see someone struggling with something, should I keep going my own way or offer some help or advice? In a literal sense, I was in my lane on a street in Mystic, Conn. one summer night. I was taking my kids to the actual restaurant from the movie “Mystic Pizza.” There was even a parking space right in front, but it involved parallel parking — never my forte.
I was also driving a new-to-me SUV. As I was backing up, turning the wheel, inching forward, scraping a hubcap, and generally making a spectacle of myself, a crowd began to gather. About half a dozen other tourists thought it would be fun to watch me wrestle a Ford Explorer into a parking space probably meant for a VW bug. Some were gesturing about how far to cut the steering wheel, others were indicating how close I was to the curb, and while I know they meant well, it was doing my head in, and I may have been a little snarky.
Eventually, I parked the car, and everyone went on with their lives. The pizza was delicious, and life was good again, but I felt terrible that I’d muttered, “You know, parking is not something accomplished by a committee, OK?” and “This is a one-person job, that’s why there’s only one driver’s seat, people!” Certainly not my finest hour.
I don’t think we should always stay in our lane — I believe there are times when we must cross someone else’s path, either because they need us or we need them. I will attend an alumni networking event for my alma mater in a few weeks. Graduates get to share career advice and opportunities with students, and I’m assigned to the panel that will discuss “gig” work and how to navigate being a freelancer.
Since graduating, it feels like I’ve had seven hundred jobs. From waitressing to writing to the education field and a stint in federal law enforcement, I might need a GPS, a spirit guide, and a divining rod to even find my “lane” in a career discussion. Still, the more you’ve seen and done, the more experience you have to offer others, right?
If you never leave your lane, your view never changes. Jump around a little, see the world from a different part of the road, and then invite someone else into your space and let them look around. We all have something to offer, and we can all benefit from the experiences of others.
Brenda Kelley Kim has lived in Marblehead for 50 years, and is an author, freelance writer, and mother of three. Her column appears weekly.