Chronicles of a learner

Yes folks I’m learning to drive*. I’m 40ish and back to being a beginner. Feels like a theme of my life the last few years, being a learner again in lots of areas.

And what’s been interesting about learning to drive is all the metaphors for life that have been hitting me thick and fast as I gingerly navigate curves and try to remember who gives way to whom.

One insight that’s hit me is that you need to slow down on the curves. When you are moving a car, you need to slow right down to change direction. Isn’t that like life? If you are moving fast in one direction, it helps to slow right down to reorient and move in a new direction. Go carefully, concentrate on your positioning and focus on looking ahead at where you want to go.

What else?

You need to keep your eyes up ahead. If you look down at the road right in front of you the car is less steady and less able to navigate the bends in the road. Look where you want to go and the car will go there. The big picture view guides us where we want to go.

Its ok to listen to your own sense of what is safe and right for right now. It’s Ok to go slower than others when we feel unsafe. A new road, bad weather, steep windy country roads – these are places we naturally feel a bit more cautious, and that is a good thing. As a new driver you get used to being slower than those around you and you need to grow thick skin and not worry too much about their inconvenience. It’s OK to go as slow as you need when doing something hard or new.

We learn with teachers. It takes being with someone who knows this thing well to internalise the ways of thinking that helps us drive well. Sitting next to experienced, patient drivers, a good instructor who can tell us what to do when we find ourselves repeating their words like a mantra. Eventually we think their words and do those actions. New ways of thinking are socially transmitted, and take practice and reinforcement.

We learn by doing. No amount of reading the road rules, or watching someone else drives gives the same muscle and bone knowledge as actually driving does. It takes practice in different scenarios to really embed these new sequences of actions, these new skills. The mind and body have to work together on complex learning. Just like in life, theory alone never teaches us as much as study and application and reflection in real life complex situations.

We have to embrace being sh!t at something to get good at something. Make no mistake, it is excruciating as an adult to be an awkward, fumbling, messy beginner. I hated my driving lessons sometimes. I feel frustrated and awkward and annoyed at myself. We make mistakes. We feel foolish. We can feel frustrated that it’s not happening quick enough. But unless we embrace this stage, and can sit with the discomfort, we will never begin to master the skill or get to a place where it becomes second nature.

So that’s it! There are my main observations about how learning to drive is much like life in general.

Have you taken on a new skill to master lately? What did being a beginner in this teach you about life and learning?

*Oh actually, I passed my test! I am a P plater! But I still consider myself in a phase of learning.

PS If you have something hard that you’ve been putting off for a long time maybe I can help. I know what it’s like to have your own good reasons for not doing something, even when there is widespread social pressure to do it! I don’t believe in an off the rack life, but one that suits you, perfectly tailored to you, comfortable, enjoyable and unfolding in the timing that suits you.


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