It’s easy to make decisions on paper. Revisit your last list of New Year’s Resolutions and I’m sure you’ll find some that were similar to mine—lose 5 pounds, eat better, run more….As of today, eight months into my “new year” I can’t say I’ve made much progress on my list. But I know that if I had included others and become more deeply engaged in my list of objectives I might have had more success.
Just after college, when I was only 22, my partner and I went through our limited budget to decide what type of car to purchase. On paper, the answer was clear–a little, inexpensive Honda Civic with a manual transmission. The only glitch? I had absolutely no idea how to drive a car with a clutch. Alex took me to a local parking lot and went over the basics of the gears. Conceptually it all seemed very simple. But I found myself lurching and stalling, clearly not “driving”.
After one or two painful lessons, Alex created a challenge for me. We were scheduled to meet college friends five hours away through the back, empty roads of New York State that weekend. He drove off the day before me in our other car that had an automatic transmission, leaving me with the clutch. “This is how you will learn–see you on Friday.” A sarcastic “nice” was the only word that floated through my head during the moment he said that. But I left the following day, alone with the clutch. (Alex also knew that I had a very difficult time saying no to a challenge)
The street we lived on at the time was a large hill, topped with a stop sign, or as a new driver would call it: a complete nightmare. I drove up, stalled, rolled back a bit, pulled up my e-brake and tried again. Making it on the second try, I still remember gaining confidence as I pulled out to make my way to the highway.
The next five hours were filled with similar moments of panic and resolve. At one point,I sat at a toll booth for a painfully long moment, angering people behind me. But somewhere in the middle of this trip, things started to click. I found the balance between my left and right, and started to intuitively remember when it was appropriate to shift gears.
And when I pulled up to our friends’ house, I didn’t feel like I’d arrived in spite of my poor clutch-driving skills. I knew that I had arrived because I had learned how to drive with a clutch and that I wasn’t going to forget.
In any experience where real learning takes place there is the risk of failure, embarrassment and panic. But these fears are alleviated when the learner knows that she wouldn’t be given a challenge she wasn’t capable of accomplishing and then is still forced to accept the challenge.
I haven’t had success in everything I’ve tried. But I’ve applied the same resolve that let me get past those first shaky moments at a stop sign to configuring a server with a bunch of CS guys standing by, to cold-calling prospects and to fundraising with VC’s and have found that even if I roll back I can find the balance to move forward again.
Life is a series of challenges. Some are created by others, some are created individually. And when you accept them, you might fail. But if you’re committed, you’ll learn deeply.