I recently did some office reorganizing and came across the small model of a yellow Lamborghini Diablo and thank you note from David, a workshop participant. He had participated in a Leading @ the Speed of Change workshop and really connected with my garbage truck story as an example of building self-control – one of the four pillars of emotional intelligence.

The story comes from my hot-headed days of youth when controlling my impulses and temper was not a strength of mine. Then a mentor outlined a scenario of being late for an appointment and getting stuck behind a slow moving garbage truck with no chance to pass. “If you get frustrated and start pounding the steering wheel, honking the horn, and driving up your blood pressure, who is in control of your life at that point; you or the garbage truck?” That hit me between the eyes. I vowed not to let garbage trucks – or anyone else – control my life.

Now fast forward to three days before this workshop. I was heading home on the 401 (a major expressway cutting through Southern Ontario) during the first heavy snow of the season. A radio traffic broadcast reported that the highway was closed due to a major crash. I got off the highway onto a back road. I was in a hurry to get home but the roads were narrow, hilly, and twisty. The few cars in front of me were crawling along much slower than necessary. I began to get frustrated and impatient. Then as we emerged from a series of hills and curves I could see further ahead to what was slowing us down. It was a big old lumbering garbage truck. I started to laugh. Here was my garbage truck sent to remind me to let go of what we can’t control!

Later that week I told this two-part story at the workshop. About a month later when I was back with this organization doing another session, David came to see me with his gift of a model Lamborghini and this note:

“Dear Jim,

I just wanted to thank you again for really making a significant change in my life.
I think I have been stuck behind a garbage truck for the past year and you have re-routed me back to the expressway.

Please accept this small token of my appreciation. When you look at it, remember the spirit you helped set free again; me.”

“PS – I couldn’t find a model garbage truck!”

If you share my occasional lapse of impatience and even give into the odd “emotional hijacking,” you might want to use the garbage truck – or find another symbol – as a reminder to let it be.