When I was in high school, my dad tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift.
I like to think I’m really good at it… once I’m in like third gear. Once I’m cruising, driving a stick makes me feel so accomplished—like some kind of race car driver, like a really good driver.
Once it’s easy.
But getting started? That’s an entirely different story. The perfect coordination of movements required in getting a stick shift from neutral to first gear—the dance between the clutch and the brake that must be so perfectly orchestrated lest you sputter and stall—well, let’s just say that I never quite mastered that part. The starting.
I would dread the approach of any stop sign or stop light, because that meant the downshifting back to neutral, losing all the ease of the drive. And if that stop sign was on any kind of hill or incline? Forget about it. My stress level would start to rise from a mile away. Because not only do you still have to maneuver the neutral to start clutch/brake dance, wherein your car may sputter and stall, on a HILL, your car will also start to roll backwards if you don’t get started fast enough.
I remember very clearly one such hill. My dad was with me, and we had come to a stop. I was doggedly trying to maneuver the gears when a car pulled up behind us. This is the WORST thing to happen to a stick-shift-driver-in-training-currently-stuck-in-neutral-on-a-hill. So panicked about rolling backward and hitting that car behind us, I eventually just put it in park and leapt out. I jumped out of the car, on a road, at a stop sign, with my dad stunned in the passenger seat and the car behind me undoubtedly wondering what the heck was going on in front of them.
I simply could not deal with not doing it right, so I quit altogether.
I’ve been thinking about how often we quit when we’re afraid of the sputter and the stall. How often when, afraid of not doing something perfectly, we avoid it entirely.
Today is my daughter’s twelfth birthday, and so far this year of her turning twelve, this 2020, is shaping up to be one for the record books, one for the history books, a defining BEFORE and AFTER moment in time.
And through our collective experiences of this year, I want her to learn not to be afraid of the sputter and stall. I want her to learn not to quit because something is hard. I want her to keep starting, over and over again, and in every re-start I want her to be just a little bit better.
I want her to tell the story of 2020 to her grandchildren—children who can’t imagine a world without equity and justice for all, a world not filled with love for humanity and a collective pursuit of true happiness—and I want her to be able to say that even though we may have sputtered, we never gave up on getting to the start.
You may find yourself sputtering right now; you may even stall. But please don’t stop trying. And if you find yourself cruising along easily and happily in fifth gear—remember, you will forever have to come back to the beginning, and re-start. And every re-start is an opportunity to do it better the next time around.
One foot on the clutch. One on the brake. Hand loosely and gently resting on the gear shift, at neutral. Stick into first gear, foot off the brake. Slow release of the clutch, along with steady pressure on the accelerator. Slowly moving forward. Feel for the moment to move into second gear. Gently, steadily, bravely.
You can do this.