Archive for January, 2015

3 things learned behind the wheel

IMG_1725I’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.

It’s not just you…

shutterstock_69913447Last week, I asked for ideas for newsletter topics, thinking it would help me map out an editorial calendar for the year. You sent me back 46 fantastic ideas!

You’d think that would mean I had 46 topics, wouldn’t you…

I don’t. Because what struck me (enough to turn it into a topic itself) was that so many of you (and me too) are struggling with the SAME THINGS.

Oh, how I wished I could have emailed you each other’s responses! Then you could take as much comfort as I did in seeing just how similar our struggles are:

  • ‘How do I accept myself as I am?’
  • ‘How do I know I’m making the right decisions?’
  • ‘How do I stop myself from procrastinating?’
  • ‘How do I stay in the present instead of worrying about the past or future?’
  • ‘How do I deal with imposter syndrome and not feeling on top of work?”
  • ‘How do I stick with a sustainable plan to lose weight?’
  • ‘How do I know which direction to head in my career?’
  • ‘How do I turn dreams into reality when fear gets in the way?’

We all worry that we’re botching things up. We assume everyone else is happier, further ahead and more together than we are… or so we think until someone says ‘it’s not just you’.

So that’s what I’m here to say in this first post of 2015. It most certainly isn’t just you. If you’re reading this at work, look around you. Everyone you see—all the cheery, confident, capable colleagues around you—ALL of them either have struggled, will struggle, or are struggling with something.

The difference is in how well people hide it. It’s in how practised people are at being ‘breezy’. How believably they deliver the line, ‘I’m fine.’ How well they respond to pressure and how much else they have to contend with.

So, never be fooled into thinking you’re a ‘freak’ because you feel the way you do. Don’t worry that other people have their acts completely together when you’re still working yours out. Every one of us is constantly evolving, being shaped and sculpted by life and taking our form.

Trust me. I’ve read your secret struggles.