Close calls can teach you a lot of lessons about life.

It was a cold winter morning in 2011, and I was home from college for winter break in Naples. A nor’easter had just swept through the night before and left several feet of snow in its wake.

I did a visual check of the roads as I walked up our recently plowed driveway, a mess of brown dirt, snow and tire tracks from my dad’s old Chevy truck. I turned on my old 1995 Saab 9000 and cleaned off the ice and snow while wondering if it was safe to drive the 15 or so minutes to the Bridgton Hannaford, where I’d been working since high school.

It looked like the snowplow hadn’t been by since the early morning, but I had a pretty good handle on the fishtail method my dad had taught me. It was going up and down the steep hills that worried me.

I had made it about halfway to work when I crested one of the larger hills. I tensed up in preparation, telling myself to just casually roll down the hill. But I started going a little too fast, which prompted a knee-jerk reaction slam on the brakes.

The car spun around in circles. Once. Twice. And one more time around until I heard a loud thud.

As the snow dust settled, I collapsed back in my seat and exhaled.

Once I got my bearings, I glanced at my sideview mirror and saw that my car had slammed backward into a snowbank. I looked to the passenger-side window and, there, only inches away it seemed, was a telephone pole.

Phew, that was close, I thought to myself.

It could’ve have turned out different in so many ways. I could’ve jetted off into the trees. The rear of my car could have slammed into the pole. And, worst-case scenario, the telephone pole could’ve slammed into my driver’s side.

I kicked myself in the butt for slamming on the brakes. While my mind was telling me one thing as I was going down the hill, my body had the completely opposite reaction. Fear had overtaken reason in that moment and had hijacked my autopilot responses.

An experience like that teaches us some important life lessons, especially as it relates to our subconscious reactions (our autopilot function).

Many of us share the same default settings when we fear or sense something different or out of the ordinary. But oftentimes, our reactions can be problematic, especially when it’s in response to people we perceive as different or as “other.”

We often jump to conclusions, make assumptions and make judgments about people without even getting to know them or listening to their story. It’s something we all struggle with. It’s something I struggle with.

But at the end of the day, we are all human and we are all works in progress. And we are not alone.

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