I’ve spent many hours in the car this week with my newly L-plated sixteen-year-old, watching her learn much more than how to operate a car. The process is teaching her how to operate her life, in ways so valuable I hope they become just as entrenched as how to change gears and brake and steer.
Begin before you’re ready
On day #1, when she first sat behind the wheel in a big vacant car park, key in hand, not knowing what to do—the learning curve seemed vertical. ‘Can’t I just go home and watch TV?’ she said (having longed for this moment for years).
No amount of TV-watching or putting-off would prepare her more for this moment. She’d scored 100% in her theoretical test, so she was as ready as she’d ever be.
It’s so tempting for us to ‘delay the difficult’. So tempting slip into ‘information gathering’ and other rituals to try to help us feel more ready. Usually there’s nothing for it but to jump in, unprepared and uncertain, and learn by doing.
You’ll stall a lot first
There’s something about that glorious moment of forward momentum following attempt after attempt to get going in first gear. She tried and tried and tried, and wondered what she was doing wrong.
Sometimes she drew the clutch out too quickly. Sometimes too slowly. Sometimes not enough acceleration. Other times too much. Hand-brake on? There were endless reasons why it wasn’t working, and she had to work through every one until she got it.
She’ll be faced with what feels like failure again, many times in her life. And what she chooses to do when it’s all ‘too hard’ will shape what happens next. We’re never defined by our failures—we’re defined by how we pick ourselves up from them and move on.
The overwhelm will lessen
After the first few times in the car, we were both mentally exhausted. Learning (and teaching) driving is an exercise in overwhelm.
It is said that our brains can hold between five and nine ‘chunks’ of information at once. The amount of things we have to concentrate on learning to drive exceeds our ability to focus on them at first. I came home from it with that familiar ‘first day in the job’ feeling of thorough exhaustion—and I was only in the passenger seat.
A few days later, some of the separate difficult things merge into one ‘chunk’. Changing gears is starting to happen instinctively, instead of being a several-step process.
It’s a beautiful example of gradually mastering the art of something, and next time she’s overwhelmed perhaps she’ll remember that first day in the car park, and how quickly she moved from ‘GAHH!’ to ‘Maybe I can do this’ to ‘I’m doing it!’
Think about it…
Most of us have been through this stage. We’re now so competent at driving we never give it a second thought. And that’s the problem…
We’re faced with new things all the time, and sometimes feel we’re not ready. We make mistakes. We feel overwhelmed. We wonder how we’ll do it…
And rarely do we hark back to all the times in our lives when we’ve been faced with this before. When we learned to drive. When we started that first weekend job in a bakery on the weekends during school. When we learned to change a nappy or bath a newborn baby.
All along, we’ve been able to do scary things. All along, we’ve not just survived, we’ve thrived.
So, next time you’re on your way to a job interview and feeling nervous, remind yourself that you’re driving there free to think almost exclusively about the selection criteria instead of which gear to use or whether to indicate going into a roundabout. You’re a person who has faced ‘new’ before. Someone who has faced ‘I can’t do this’ and won.
We’re much stronger, mentally, than we sometimes think.