By Susan Ford Collins
Several years ago, I bought gas at a neighborhood station and headed home. The light was green when I entered the intersection but immediately turned yellow then red. Cars in front of me stopped short. Cars on either side came at me like raging bulls. My only safe choice was to turn left, even though I had been going straight through that no-left-turn intersection for years.
The moment I turned, a siren forced me over. A red-faced policeman demanded my license as though I had just killed several people. “That really scared me! Give me a second,” I said. But he headed off in a huff to write not just one ticket but two: illegal left turn and failure to stop on red. When he handed me those tickets I tried again to explain what happened, but he barked, “If you want to contest these tickets, I’ll see you in court.”
When the citations arrived in the mail weeks later, I started rehearsing what I would say to the judge. The traffic flow failed me. I’d been forced to turn left. At a town council meeting weeks later, I learned that the Department of Transportation was planning to reroute traffic in that intersection because so many cars were getting trapped. I felt more certain than ever that I would have both tickets dismissed.
On the appointed day, I headed to court. But the court I walked into wasn’t the one I expected. It was a pretrial hearing: “If you plead no-contest and don’t ask for a trial, we’ll make you a deal you can’t refuse.” When I told the hearing officer “my truth,” she confirmed that the intersection was a problem, reduced the fine to a bare minimum and took away the points. In that moment, her proposed deal felt good and I heard myself say, “OK, fine. I just wanted to be heard.”
But just being heard wasn’t really what I wanted because, when I read the receipt and saw the word "guilty” printed there in black and white, I felt sick at my stomach. I had failed to get the tickets dismissed. Why? Was it because I was scared and simply wanted the whole thing over? Was it because it would be my word against the word of that red-faced, overpowering policeman in court? Was I afraid the result might be something far worse?
Then, as if to highlight my lack of persistence, as I stood staring at the word “guilty”, the bailiff came over and said, “Mam. I wouldn’t have settled my case if I were you. You would have had both tickets dismissed if you had asked for a trial.”
I couldn’t sleep, smacked in the face by how powerful fears really are. How they drown out our dreams. Whether we’re confronting a policeman or judge, the child in us goes for safety and compliance instead of our desired outcome… unless we’ve developed the 7th Success Skill which gives us the ability to hold onto our outcome and keep taking all the steps needed to get there. The next day I called the courthouse and asked for a trial date.
In the courtroom on the day of the trial, I saw that overpowering policeman sitting up front on the witness stand and my scared feelings returned. But this time, I was consciously committed to having the charges dismissed. When my case was called and the judge asked that policeman when and where the tickets had been issued, I heard him provide the wrong date. I told the judge the correct date as well as what I’d learned about traffic problems in that intersection, and joyfully heard the judge pronounce, “Not guilty. Case dismissed.”
(c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email email@example.com
* For more on how to stay on course to your desired outcomes, read Success Skill 7 in The Joy of Success: 10 Essential Skills for Getting the Success You Want.
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