My stomach dropped at the sight of flashing lights behind me.
"Pull over ma'am, pull over!" barked a motorcycle cop through his megaphone.
"I'm so so sorry," I said averting eye contact with the angry-looking police officer who approached my window. I knew before he said a thing why I was in trouble.
Moments before I had stopped at a red light and decided to use the extra seconds to ever so illegally read and return a few emails. This was not my first offense. One particular email was apparently so alluring that I continued to read it as I hit the gas when the light turned green and rolled through the intersection. The cop was behind me the whole time.
He left me with a stern warning that day and a question I spent the following weeks trying to answer: Why was I in such a rush? In my work life, I was incessantly squeezing endless tasks into inadequate buckets of time, giving me no space to breathe, be with myself or, in this case, keep my eyes on the road. This pattern was even more concerning in my personal life where it seemed I was always trying to get some place I wasn't.
In my 20s and 30s that place was love and I was in hot pursuit of it: online dating, set-up dating, and speed-dating my way to finding Mr. Right. And, through years of break-ups that left pillows drenched with tears and glasses filled with a bit too much red wine, I always told myself things would be so much better when I got "there."
Nearly 20 years into that quest, I finally found my guy. And everything was so much better. We fell in love and got married in the course of a magical 18 months. Then, under the gun of our biological clocks, we started trying to get pregnant. Immediately. I was on a roll, I thought, and surely my life-long dream of being a mom would be realized.
Month after month, I'd take pregnancy tests and feel my heart sink watching that single blue line indicating an unwelcomed result: negative. I'd then spiral into irrational fear: What if I waited too long? What if I can't have kids!
I had arrived at the major life passage that was my happy marriage, but there I was again, unconsciously rolling my way through the intersection. The warning I got from the cop that day seemed to be part of a bigger life message. "Pay attention," some deeper part of me whispered. "Don't miss your life."
When I was a teenager, I used to lie on the hot-pink carpeted floor of my bedroom and belt out a country song by Travis Tritt called "I'm Going to Be Somebody." The song was about a poor guitar player named "Bobby" (pronounced "Baaabay" with Tritt's southern drawl) who, despite a rough upbringing, beats the odds to become a country music star. With pure conviction and tears in my eyes I'd sing the words of the chorus: "I'm going to be somebody. One of these days I'm going to break these chains. I'm going to be somebody someday!" And then put the song on repeat.
When I got pulled over by the cop I was almost 40. My "someday" was here. I finally found my husband, but not the kids. I had a career I enjoyed as a filmmaker for nonprofits but wasn't solving any big problems or impacting the world like I thought I'd be. Nor had I finished the book I meant to write or done anything with eighty hours of footage that should have been a documentary by then. Was I "somebody" yet? Would I ever break the self-punishing chains of what I hadn't become?
For the last year, I have been working my way through this achievement orientation and toward a different definition of success. After so many years of nonstop activity, change hasn't come in any dramatic fashion. It comes instead in micro-moments where I reign in my inner race car driver and a feeling of "somebody" emerges -- not from any external accomplishment -- but as a feeling of wholeness that wells up from inside.
It happens when I'm curled up with my husband and feel my nervous system calm and heart fill with the miracle it is to be loved as I am. And on the days when I make space for writing, for noticing clouds, for conversations with grocery store clerks and mini acts of generosity towards strangers. It happens sometimes when I walk and can feel the calmness of mind and solidity in my step that has come with age.
And then sometimes it un-happens.
Slow down, I told myself on my way to the airport for a trip to celebrate my 40th birthday with my husband just months after my first traffic stop. You wouldn't want to get caught again. That was about when I looked into my rear view mirror and saw another set of flashing lights.
"Nooooo!" I yelled at myself.
"Do you know why I pulled you over?" another police officer outside my window asked gruffly.
"I didn't totally stop..."
"You practically rolled right through that stop sign," he cut me off.
My hands trembled with humiliation. I was getting pulled over for going too fast on my way to slowing down.
He walked back to his car and I waited to find out my punishment.
"I'm going to give you a warning today," he said when he returned, "but please slow down Ms. Jones, just slow down."
A few days later I was in a tiny surf spot off a long dirt road in Mexico when I heard those words in my head again. Please slow down Ms. Jones, just slow down. This time the message felt less like a warning and more like permission.
I shut my phone and computer down for the week and paddled out for an evening surf with my husband. An I shifted into slower motion, I caught a glimpse of the love in his eyes, the way the sun danced on the waves. For a moment, I didn't want a baby or to have completed a book or any of the other things I thought I should have done by 40. I just wanted the feeling of whole-hearted contentment as tears, mixed with salt water, streamed down my face.
My "someday" was here and "somebody" was me. And, in that moment, it was all so very enough.