Watch Out! There’s Somebody in Your Backseat!

Watch Out! There’s Somebody in Your Backseat!
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Urban Legends are powerful and often frightening.  Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the woman driving at night on the highway.  After a quick stop at a gas station she became frightened when a semitruck driver suddenly began to drive directly behind her.  To make matters worse, every few minutes the truck would flash its high-beams and honk its horn.  Fearing for her safety the woman accelerated and prayed that she might quickly reach the next town, but was unable to create any sizable distance from the truck.  Finally, as she reached the outskirts of the next town she spotted a truckstop where she hoped she could find some help.


Racing into the parking lot of the truckstop, she jumped out from her car and raced into the store.  Moments later the man in truck pulled in and ran into the store.  Stumbling over his words, he asked “are you ok?”  Confused and still frightened the woman remained speechless.  The truck driver then implored the store owner to call the police.  He went onto explain that while at the previous gas station he noticed a man sneak into the back of the woman’s car just before she departed.  Knowing that she was in danger he raced behind her, flashing his lights and honking his horn every time he saw the man pop up in the backseat.  When the store owner called 911, the police dispatcher explained that an inmate had recently escaped from a local prison and that the woman likely encountered the dangerous prisoner.

So what does this urban legend about unwanted passengers in your backseat have to do with leadership or education?  It’s happened to me…well kind of.

As a school leader I’m often bombarded everyday by a deluge of emails, phone calls and meetings from teachers, students and parents that can range on a whole number of topics and demands.  This, of course, is part of the job description, but every once in awhile one of these interactions can be hard to shake and sticks with me.  It occupies my thoughts and downtime and even takes over my subconscious.  It can be from a bad parent interaction, or sour conversation with a teacher, even the way I handled an interaction with a colleague in the parking lot.

It happened this week.  I was in the car by myself, driving to a gathering with friends.  Suddenly, I realized my mind had been hijacked by an incident from the week and I was reliving and rethinking what happened.  As I checked my rearview mirror, it occurred to me that it was almost like the people involved were sitting in my backseat.  Popping up every few minutes to torment me.  Their sour faces staring back at me, casting their condemnation upon me.

Generally speaking, I’ve always been pretty good at keeping my work at work…something many teachers and leaders have a hard time doing.  So when I noticed the unwanted “passengers” in my back seat I realized that this sour interaction was costing me more than time and energy at work, but it was wrestling away my peace and precious free time.

So what does one do when faced with this kind of problem?  For me, I’ve found that naming the thoughts and changing the argument in my head from “why I’m right?” to “how do we move forward?” is a good first start.  Other times, it might be better to pull over, open the rear door, kick your stowaways out of the car, and leave those negative thoughts on the side of the road.

Have you ever felt like a moment from the week has snuck into the backseat of your car, or occupied your mental space?  What do you do?  Add your thoughts in the comments below.

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Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

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