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5 Lessons I Have Learned As An Uber Driver

posted: May 10th, 2017 by Dave Trout

I haven't been keeping it a secret, and for various reasons haven't been blasting this publicly either (until now) - I am a part-time Uber driver.  This last January, after our Q4 fundraising for UTR fell below expectations, the UTR board of directors and I decided that to help the financial stability of the organization, both my hours and pay would need to be cut back from UTR.  And after a few weeks of applying for several part-time jobs (all dead ends), I turned to one of the nation's top job providers: Uber.  I won't pretend that Uber completely filled the financial gap for me and my family, however I'm thankful that it exists (which wasn't the case in Chicago even just 5 years ago).  And even in my short 3-month "career" as an Uber driver, I have learned these 5 important lessons.

1. Reaffirmation of Passion and Calling

I have felt for many years that my work for UTR is a spiritual calling.  Yet, I have fallen on my face so many times and have encountered so many closed doors that I am in constant doubt about this "calling." I enjoy helping people and I enjoy driving, so Uber is a good fit for me. However, while I zig zag the mean streets of the Windy City, I was struck with the realization that I am not "called" to be an Uber driver. I am just one of 160,000 Uber drivers in the US, so it's not like I've been equipped in a unique way for that role. However, I do feel uniquely equipped and impassioned to create content and cultivate a community around well-crafted, faith-inspired music. Something seems a little bit off as I am driving. It's this longing to be using my time toward my real calling. It's a desire to pour more of my energy into UTR... a desire that must be tempered at this time.

2. Falling Back in Love With Audio

Right now, video is king. When you are struggling to get staples to load properly into your stapler, where do you turn for help? A user manual... or a YouTube tutorial? If the option to click play on a 2-minute video is available, many would prefer that.  I 100% get this. It's why more video production is going to be a prominent part of UTR's content strategy moving forward.  But I'll confess something I've never told anyone about... a side factor of the desire to produce more video is that I had somewhat fallen out of love with audio content.  Uber has changed that for me in a big way.  I realized that some of my lack of interest in audio content was that I only have a 4 mile commute to my office.  Now that I am in my car 10-15 extra hours per week, my interest level in well-crafted original audio content has grown exponentially.  If you hop in my car as an Uber passenger, I will likely be playing a mix of "gourmet music." But for stretches where I don't have riders, I will likely switch over to a podcast. In recent months, I've been keeping up on my regular favorites, like All Time Favorite, The Liturgists, and Online Marketing Made Easy - but have also added new podcasts to the mix like Missing Richard Simmons, Undone, Story Brand, and Serial.  This has been a game changer, and has reignited my desire to have UTR produce high-quality audio content.

3. Tips are Rare, But So Nice

This has nothing to do with UTR, but there has been a lot of chatter about tipping drivers. Many drivers prefer Lyft because they encourage tipping direct on their app (Uber does not, but many are hoping this changes soon). Uber used to discourage tips by telling customers on their website "...there is no need to tip." Now, thanks to a class action lawsuit, the same website has softened it's position to say "Tipping is voluntary... you are not obligated." But many remember the "your tip is included in your price" days, and they are conditioned not to tip. Most of these people wouldn't hesitate to tip a bell hop, a waitress, a valet, a shoe-shine boy, or the pizza guy. In fact, most of these same people would likely tip a taxi driver for the exact same ride, even though their travel fare was over twice as much.  I have gotten tips, but it's rare - likely about once every 25 rides.  If you are one of the rare types that is a generous tipper, no matter the service someone is doing for you, THANK YOU - you are my hero.

4.  Learning to Speak Non-Religiously

One of the common questions I am asked is "Do you do any work outside of Uber?" I always say the same answer, "Yes, actually, I run a non-profit organization." It leaves it open for them to ask follow up questions if they are interested, or they can drop the conversation right there.  When it comes time to describe what UTR is/does, I have learned that if I position the org in a religious setting (e.g. "It's a Christian ministry that...") there is an immediate tune-out factor for most people. The rest of what I have to say is completely clouded by whatever hangups that person has with church, God, or religion. Now that I've had a few practice runs, I can talk about the mission of UTR without using any religious terminology.  I often say something like, "We produce media content to feature some of the most meaningful music being created today. These are the songs that are helping folks like me be a better husband, father, decision maker, and process my own fears, doubts, and discouragements."  Maybe not surprisingly, folks lean forward and are engaged in the conversation in a way that they likely would not be if I rubber-stamped the organization in religious terms.  Does this mean I am selling the gospel short?  I sure hope not.  In fact maybe our religious terminology gets in the way of engaging people with the gospel. It makes me wonder how a pastor or a missionary might be able to describe their work or mission without using any religious terms. It's been a good practice for me.

5.  All Work Has Value

Work comes in all shapes and sizes, but culturally we often size someone up by what they do for a living. The cultural "value" of a published author is higher than a blog writer; a CFO is higher than a data entry person - you get the idea. In some ways, being identified as an Uber driver is a perceived step down from being the founder and president of a non-profit organization. However, to the individual or couple sitting in my back seat trying to catch their flight at the airport, my role as a driver has more value and is more important than my day job status.  They are counting on me to get them to their destination in a safe, timely, and comfortable manner.  It's been good for me to get out of the office, meet new people, and self-identify with a "lesser than" position.  It's helped me to see that who I am as a person and how I care about serving others has very little to do with the tilte on my business card. And it's helped me to get a glimpse of a very big world and meet some people in all kinds professional positions (big and small) that help make the world work a better place.

God continues to pursue me and work in my life in ways that I didn't even know were necessary.  Over the last 4 months, I experienced some deep boughts of discouragement and plenty of doubt about my calling.  The valleys were deep, and I didn't know if there would be a happy ending.  However, I wouldn't trade in that journey, because God has been working in me and preparing me for something new.  If you had told me a couple of months ago that I would be embarking on a "new chapter" vocationally, I would have assumed that meant I was throwing in the towel on UTR and moving on in life. However, because of this wild adventure of 2017, I am in a place where my passion for UTR's mission and excitement about the road ahead are actually hitting an all-time high! I am ready to see God take UTR's ministry to an entirely new level. Hop in my back seat, and I'll be glad to take you there.

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