lyft
by Michael Schwengel


I started driving for Lyft just a few months ago.  At first, I thought of it as a nice way to make some extra cash in between voiceover jobs – something to turn to for a sure paycheck at the end of the day.  It’s been that, and a lot, lot more.  After enthusiastically signing up to schlep folks around town, having my vehicle inspected, and undergoing a background check (passed!), I was on the road in a mere 48 hours.

In fact, maybe I was a little too enthusiastic at the start.  My first customer was a nice woman who lives nearby that I took to the airport for her weekly business trip.  I think she may have been less enthused than she led on after hearing she was my first customer, but I got her to the right airport with plenty of time to spare.  What transpired over the next few months as I worked to reach my 200 ride signing bonus was a series of miraculous connections and conversations that I swear have made me a better, more evolved, more loving human being.

Every person that got into my car gave me countless lessons as they shared their time, trust, and sometimes intimate stories.  For the first few days, I kept a journal keeping notes of highlights from each conversation, but as the weeks went by I wasn’t able to keep this up as the ride frequency increased.  Nonetheless, here are some of the profiles I remember most:

  • A young man on his way to a job interview, a fresh start from a career he was leaving that made him feel stressed and unfulfilled.
  • Picking up a man from DWI community service after a long weekend of work and reflection.
  • A derivatives trader who entered the world of finance to pay for his mother’s hospital bills, and longs to get back to writing music.
  • Driving a Dad and his son to Kindergarten while Mom was away.
  • Bringing a college aged girl to class, while she vented her frustrations of feeling like she has to always take care of her family on her own.
  • An older man, wanting to get home from physical therapy after a car fell off an overpass and through his windshield.
  • A man working downtown, going back home to the suburbs, who opened up about his social anxiety and fear of being in groups.
  • Driving a young mother back from the Coop after getting dinner supplies for her sick son staying at the Ronald McDonald House.
  • A lovely and lively African American woman who I drove to the beauty supply shop to pick out her new weave, and then to her hair stylist to have it installed.  She graciously took all my questions about black culture and hairstyle which taught me so much and made me feel less “other”.
  • A transgender exotic dancer who shared some of her life journey and judgements she faces from people.
  • Group of wildly intoxicated, but delightful, Red Hot Chili Pepper fans who had me playing along in their improvised story of “ways to murder the Lyft driver”. Trust me, it was a lot more fun than it sounds.

 

Ah, those are just a handful of the memories.  Each person fascinatingly different and perfectly unique, yet strikingly similar in so many ways.  Everyone just trying to get from point A to point B, to move life forward, to solve today’s problem, to find comfort and know that everything is going to be okay.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the past few months of interacting one on one with this wonderfully random sampling of Minneapolis:

Instant Humility

Especially as an actor, I used to spend so much energy and time thinking about how other people perceive me.  Crafting an agreeable and attractive “public image”.  Focusing on getting my needs met.   Working in service is the perfect antidote, a sort of prescribed remedy to the external achiever.  I found such peace of mind knowing that the people who got into my car are not concerned with my achievements. They are not concerned with any sort of persona that I may be carrying in my head.  Passengers just want to feel comfortable, safe, respected, listened to, and confident knowing they are getting where they need to go.  Being in a position to create that space for someone allowed me to simply turn off any other motivations that wouldn’t serve me or the passenger in that situation.

Watching my Defenses & Complexes Come Up

Driving a car and following a blue line on the GPS gives a person a lot of space to put their attention.  With safety as a top priority of course, I chose to listen to and watch how I responded to each person that entered the car. Do certain people make me tense up?  Does my vocal inflection go up or down depending on who I think I am talking to?  Does a certain archetype instill fear of rejection within me? Do I really want this person to like me, and why?  This became a sort of meditation for me to see little crevices of my being that I may not have acknowledged before, and also on a more general scale notice where I am afraid and untrusting of “the world outside me” (more on that later on).

Creating a Taxi-Cab Approach to Life

One of my favorite things about the conversations I have with people is that at the end of the ride, some ten, twenty, or thirty minutes later, I could accept that I may never see or talk to this person again.  It’s so freeing to accept that even a deeply spiritual, philosophical conversation or connection doesn’t have to linger or last more than a short while for it to be perfect.  It’s wonderful to trust that each person is going on with their journey and has everything they need to be whole and complete, both me and the passenger.  This eliminates the desire to try to “get something” from someone, or get caught up in needing to save someone.  Although I will say that I have exchanged contact information with a few passengers who have gone on to become close friends.

Trusting that I Am Enough, in a World of Ratings & Five Stars

Fans of Black Mirror may resonate with this one on the “Nosedive” episode’s portrayal of our modern system of feedback and rating each other.  Like most app and web-based social platforms these days, Lyft has a feedback system which allows drivers and passengers to rate their experience.  The purpose of such a system is to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone involved.  On the flip side, it can certainly find it’s way to neurosis through our very human desire to fit in and be accepted by society.  And to add even more pressure, Lyft has a policy that drivers with a score of 4.6 or lower (out of 5.0) can be at risk of suspension.  Therefore, the “I need this person to like me or else I will not survive” instinct can become very real.

This instinct can create all sorts of behavior, like that which is hilariously portrayed in this SNL sketch “Five Stars“.  It can become a natural instinct to constantly wonder “does this person like my music?”, “am I annoying them?”, “do they want to talk?”, “do they want me to shut up?”, “should I smile more?”, “am I smiling too much?”, and on and on.

Luckily, I don’t have much patience for my mind when it goes into overdrive like that, so I started trusting my intuition on every ride.  Deep down, I believed that I am enough just as I am.  That whatever music is playing is perfect for this passenger. And if they don’t like it, they’ll ask me to play something different.  That the signals for conversation are totally natural and easy to follow when they are simply trusted and followed, not painstakingly overanalyzed.

And so each ride become a meditation in trusting that I am enough, that the ride is enough, that mistakes I make are okay, that it’s okay even if this passenger doesn’t like me, that most things are out of my control, and all of that is enough.  As I became more at ease, so did my passengers, and their comfort level increased.  The strange paradox of wanting people to like you is that they end up liking you more when you no longer need them to.

Deconstructing My View of “The World Outside”

I think we all have those days when we look in the mirror, and we just hear the world outside taunting us.  You look too ____, you’re not successful enough, you should be doing _____, etc, etc.  At times it can feel very real, and unfortunately even interfere with our decision making and choices.   With my newfound app-based career, I found a easy way to get to the bottom of this chaotic thinking.  Whenever this internal dialogue started playing, I decided to go drive and find out – look at the monster square in the eyes.

What did I find?  Well, the monster was never out there.  The voices in my mind, the world I had constructed in my mind, was never to be found.  Not in the 200 people that I drove around.  Not even the people who rated me less than 5 stars were as critical of me as I was to myself staring in the mirror.  And so I decided to let go of this belief that I know what the world is thinking.  I also let go of the belief that there is an objective “world” out there.  There isn’t. There are 7.4 billion different worlds, each with their own perspectives and points of view.  7.4 billion opportunities for connection.  What a freaking relief!

Helping me Deal with the Effects of Bullying

To expand on the previous point in terms of the creation of an objective “external world in which I need to approve of me”, this reflection and observations from interacting with my passengers ended up pointing me to the fact that I never truly resolved the pain around being bullied as a child.  In my mind, everyone was still against me.  I was just waiting for one person to find a flaw in me, and to get the entire world to gang up on me and take away any sense of security and confidence I currently have.  In fact, it brought up a memory of being ten years old, and having all the kids in my neighborhood sign a petition because they thought I was a girl due to my high pitched voice and flamboyant (see: fabulous) demeanor.  Of course there is nothing negative about being a girl, but the undertone of being outcast and rejected for being different stuck.  I never realized that at a very fixed but subconscious level, I have been carrying this world view around with me for the past 20 some years, waiting for another petition to start.

Through the reinforcement of 200 random, intimate (letting somewhat in your car does require a level of vulnerability) experiences with complete strangers, I started to accept that I am okay.  I am safe.  It’s okay for someone to not like me.  It’s not going to set off a chain reaction.  It’s okay to be myself 100% and have someone I don’t know see me that closely.  I am strong enough, and mature enough now to set boundaries and trust myself to discern when I am and am not safe.

Shine a Light on Prejudices in My Mind

This last one is something that I am definitely not proud of necessarily, but nonetheless is a critical point to acknowledge.  The person who entered my car and the person who left my car in almost every situation was a different person.  This had nothing to do with the actual person, and instead everything to do with me changing my programmed beliefs about race, gender, class, and more.   This led me to accept the fact that my MIND is in fact racist, sexist, prejudiced in so many ways.  My mind creates all sorts of stories about people that are simply not true, and the only reason it does that is out of fear.  Once I can accept that without self judgement, then there is room for healing and growth.

Yes, It’s scary to just let someone be who they are without putting them in a box.  We all want to have something to hold onto to guide a conversation and interaction with the unknown, so it makes sense.  But I’m happy to say that I was able to let go of so many of these stereotypes and prejudices I was carrying, which have left me able to love others and even myself more than when I started.

 

So there you have it… my 60 day road trip around Minneapolis and through the lives of 200 people.  If for some reason you – one of my passengers – have stumbled onto this page, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You’ve opened my eyes, my mind, and made me a better person.

Michael Schwengel

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21 Comments on "How being a Lyft Driver made me a better human being."

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Tina
Guest
10 months 7 days ago

I love that so many lives coming in and out of your life have made an impact. What a beautiful story illustrating how we all have a story and how we are all truly connected. Thank you #onemichael!

Letitia
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Letitia
9 months 29 days ago

Excellent Share of your driving experience! I’m in week 3, and it certainly is an experience that’s deeper than just a “driver” for those who choose to look within.
Thank you for your transparency.

Diane Wilson
Guest
Diane Wilson
9 months 29 days ago

As a 68 yr. old female African American Lyft driver reading your story, my mind traveled to my experieces throughout my 50 yr career as a social worker. I too grew so much as a human being dealing with all types of people during those years. Now, with an 8 month career as a Lyft driver, I find myself repeating that cycle of growth.

Diane Wilson
Guest
Diane Wilson
9 months 29 days ago

Correction- 40 yr career as a social worker

Bob Chapman
Guest
9 months 29 days ago

For the most part people are kind and great, but of course there are always those few but don’t ever let them get you down, think about the nice elderly lady you took home from the doctors office, or the kids on spring break with their entire lives ahead of them that is where the rubber meets the road.

Brian
Guest
Brian
9 months 29 days ago
Michael. Me and you have the same mind…wow! Everything you typed goes through my mind too, particularly during my rides, when each new passenger gets. I instantly become so self-aware of people and myself. I constantly want to push myself to grow and be the best human being I can be, so I “trap” all the negative thoughts in my head as I’m driving, before they get too out of hand. I really discover a lot about myself during each new trip..and I find myself opening up to people the same way they open to me. But..it truly is like… Read more »
Rob B
Guest
9 months 29 days ago

Excellent read! Thanks for sharing, I can totally relate.

Sue
Guest
Sue
9 months 28 days ago

Absolutely awesome! I’m taking some of you on the road with me today. Thanks!

David
Guest
David
9 months 28 days ago

wow, Michael – I am incredibly impressed with the depth of perception you bring in your article. As a ‘new’ Lyft driver, I can relate to your words, in so many ways. I hope someday I have the honor of being one of your riders, or at least, make direct contact with you to share stores and other insights, as I resonate with your view of this “journey” and the experiences we have to learn and become better human beings. Thank you! – David. Lyft Driver – Virginia Beach, VA

Vince
Guest
Vince
9 months 28 days ago

It is like you are in the car with me, I am not ashamed to say this made me cry!

TK Lam
Member
9 months 27 days ago

I usually don’t read these but I was interested in what you had to say.
I’ve been driving since part time since 2013,
You perfectly described my thoughts about driving. Thanks 🙂

Bernard Clyde
Guest
9 months 16 days ago

I appreciate your insight on how driving for Lyft has helped you become better, especially your comment on humility. I think it’s important that you feel productive and like you are making a difference with any job. It sounds like driving for Lyft has those opportunities since you are serving the individual and you can help make their day better in that brief amount of time.

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