Life Lessons from my Jeep

My 1999 cream Jeep Wrangler is shaking as if it has just had a seizure and I’m seriously considering calling an ambulance. Beside me my dad is on the verge of abundant laughter or a candid lecture–both of which seem perfectly plausible at this point in time. He sits in silence while I shout and cry, which just defeats the purpose of even talking in the first place. I thought learning to drive stick shift would be easy, yet here I am with a pool of tears in my lap and confidence that looks like shredded meat. I haven’t even made it out of the driveway and I’ve already given up.

I tried four times to reverse the Jeep into the street, each resulting in a jerking motion much like those roller-coaster simulators in rundown malls, followed by complete stillness. My neighbor watched me repetitively stall until I couldn’t take the embarrassment anymore. I stormed into the garage and demanded my dad sell the car so I’d never have to look at it again. As a girl who always seemed to get everything right, I felt terribly defeated by a skill I had barely even attempted to learn.

I’ve wanted a manual Jeep since I was ten years old, when my parents presented me with the holy grail of birthday gifts—a mobile Barbie Jeep. I guess I should have known the real thing wouldn’t be as easy to operate as the hot pink plastic stick that was just for looks, but then again we never really know the work a goal requires until we step in and get our hands dirty.

My dad never put the Jeep up for sale. Instead he left it there in the driveway like some sort of morbid statue that only existed to illustrate my failure. It took two weeks for me to open the driver’s door again.

I was so terrified of stalling and disappointing myself a second time, that I thought if I avoided the dilemma it eventually would fade like a painting left in the sun. But after so many days of “stalling,” I finally realized that not everything is going to go right on the first try, in fact anything worth being proud of usually takes time and practice. Skills, like paintings left in the sun, can fade but they won’t ever erase themselves entirely. Like canvas they’ll deteriorate until your left with  a frame to brittle to use–skills too deserted to build on.

By teaching myself how to combine the perfect amount of gas with the perfect release speed of the clutch, I began to better balance my social and academic lives to create a combo that produced success in both areas. Realizing that there was no “right” way to drive stick, that timing is based on of the vibrations you feel as the RMP fluctuate helped me make decisions I can feel are right, not decisions based off the input and choices of others.

Sometimes in life we stall; like stick-shift cars we get overwhelmed with the amount of demands we give ourselves. However, stalling isn’t permanent unless you make it. Failing on my first attempts at driving a manual car showed me that no matter how difficult and frustrating our hardships are, we must face them in order to grow into the people we want to become.

Learning to drive stick shift may seem insignificant, but I know I’m the person I am today as a result of the failure I experienced behind that vintage wheel. My jeep has become the safest place in my life. I drive in circles when I don’t want to stay in one place, when I find myself terrified of time stopping or of facing a question I don’t know the answer too. The stick shift makes it easier too. Sure, I can multitask by now, but if I give my full attention to the clutch and if my right hand that stays fixated on the stick then I don’t have to think about anything. I can drive and all the things I want to run from will appear distant if even just for a moment.

I am not perfect. I still stall my car every once in a while when I am at a stoplight or in the driveway, and shifting isn’t the only thing on my mind. However, thanks to the challenge I overcame, I can laugh at these mistakes. Instead of opening the door and ditching the Jeep, I can stay in my seat, turn the keys, and wait for a deep muffle that gets louder with each passing second. I can shamelessly push in the clutch once more, and keep going.

One comment

  1. I learned to drive a stick prior to going to Europe. I had this vision of me roaming the countryside in my little car. I learned to drive on a beaten up VW Bug. When I landed in Amsterdam I had a new car with no miles. The clutch was tight. The point of the story is, there were times I could not get the car to move. I couldn’t get it to move on a hillside. People came out of a restaurant to move their cars for fear that I was going to destroy theirs. I had visited a friend and his dog took a liking to me. She, a weiner dog, was with me this particular day and she decided to climb into my land as the car roll backwards. In the end after two weeks I could drive a stick as if I had driven one for years. My friends laugh when I tell the story. Don’t fee bad.

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