Two lessons from my twenties will stick with me forever:
- Don’t buy cheap tyres
- Learn how to negotiate
The moments in which I learned these were tipping points. Tipping points that meant death or life threatening injury as a likely outcome.
Back in the early 1990’s I was driving to work early one Saturday morning. It was 5:30am and the sun was just peeking over the horizon. I was driving towards the town of Cirencester in Gloucestershire. As I went under a bridge I had to brake hard. My car rapidly turned onto the drivers side and kept going. As it slid forward, scraping the road at speed, the windscreen shattered, along with the side windows. Petrol then sprayed in, soaking my face and body, the car then flipped onto its roof. As it continued sliding, it started to squash me as the weight of the car pushed down.
I was nearly into my twenties, living in Tetbury in the UK with my mum and brother. That morning I was in my first car, a black Fiat Panda. It wasn’t a reliable car and calling it a piece of junk is quite possibly understating its condition. It was mine however, my very own transport, where I could play my own music and drive myself anywhere I wanted. I had freedom.
Back to that Saturday. I knew the road well, I’d driven from Tetbury to Cirencester as part of my commute for a few months by then. I also knew of its dangers. One of my friends who lived a few houses from me had died in a car crash on that very route. Despite all this, my reaction came as a surprise when I saw a bunch of party goers in the road. They were trying to push their car up hill from under the bridge.
Those party goers had been raving in the countryside a few fields away. Unfortunately for me they’d also been enjoying drugs that had impaired their judgment. This helped them think jump starting a car up hill was a thing.
So as I headed down into the darkness under that bridge, there they were. All I could think of doing in the milliseconds I had to choose a response, was slam on my brakes. So my car turned onto its side.
I remember someone dragging me out of my car through the drivers door, which had popped off. Miraculously I was unharmed, aside from bruising, scratching and shock. The partygoers had fled and the person who helped me was another driver coming the opposite way.
Lesson? Don’t take drugs and bump start a car uphill, it’s not a thing. Also never buy cheap tyres! They’re all there is between you and the road. Since that accident I’ve budgeted a minimum spend of 3% of a cars initial cost on tyres.
Several years later I found myself volunteering in Nigeria. One evening I jumped onto my moped and sped through the jungle to the next village. I’d heard there were other volunteers visiting and I wanted to meet them. Soon after arriving, I was drinking beer and having a good time when there was a knock at the door. Three plain clothed men claiming to be police dragged us outside at gunpoint shouting and screaming. They then lined us up next to a Land Rover, pointing their guns directly at us.
The other volunteers had managed to get some weed earlier in the day, which they’d been smoking that evening. The men calling themselves police (though they were unable to show ID) had heard rumours of this and wanted to make arrests (having drugs in Nigeria was a serious offence at that time).
After what felt like an hour of questioning and threatening, they started to search us. One by one down the line they searched, emptying pockets, shouting and taking anything of value. As they made their way down the line I felt the person next to me kick me on the foot. I looked down and there was a bag of weed in his hands, hidden behind his back. It was being passed down the line without the people searching us noticing. I took the bag and placed it on top of the Land Rover wheel behind me. Luckily the Land Rover in question hadn’t been jacked up and so the wheel arch hid the contraband nicely.
Being the last one to get searched and still no weed to be found, resulted in me getting the full force of their anger. One of them held their gun to my left kneecap saying he’d shoot me if I didn’t tell him where it was, so I was pretty angry at this point. I’d read enough Batman and seen enough Clint Eastwood to know the only way out of this without lots of violence, that didn’t involve me handing the weed over, was to talk and make sure what I said was smart. So I talked (I would have preferred the Batman fighting route but didn’t like my chances).
Looking back I don’t actually remember what I said, though I do remember asking questions and finding out their names, along with being able to convince them that there was no weed. All in the whole incident lasted a couple of hours before they left us. They got bored, became convinced we had no drugs and had already taken anything of value.
The moment I remember most about that whole evening, was the moment where we watched them drive off into the night. I felt a change happen, a change in me as a person, one that I could never come back from. I had negotiated my way out of being shot, after hiding drugs from gunmen. This wasn’t a movie set, it was real life.
Lesson? Be good at negotiating anything and everything. EQ is a superpower, especially if you’re not Batman. Whether it’s at work, your family or with a gunman. Negotiation skills and connecting with people are what separates the many who have and the many who don’t have.