I learned to drive in a beat up 1962 Volkswagen Bug. It was a manual transmission, leaked like a sieve, had rusted out spots in the floor, and rattled its way down the freeway. Most kids I grew up with bettered their driving skills on second hand cars. Just to drive the car, I had to check the fluids daily, learn how to change a tire, change my oil, and give it a tune up. I also had a part time job in San Francisco, so I had to learn how navigate the hills with a stick shift. There is nothing more frightening to a beginning driver then to feel yourself rolling down a steep hill backwards, trying to get into first gear. I also drove the 250 mile trip up into Reno, during the winter. I bought chains, headed out in a snow storm, with the mindset that I’d figure it out as I went along.
It was both a most terrifying and exhilarating time in my life. It was a “rite of passage.”
Years later, when I was teaching my nephew to drive, I had a small truck, also with a stick shift. Chris hated the manual clutch. He would start, grow frustrated at changing gears, get mad and stop. We had to borrow a friend’s car for him to train on and get his license. At the time, I just wanted him to learn to drive, and didn’t teach him to work through the problem. Now I wish I had. But at the time, I was just with him on the weekends and we had a limited schedule. To this day, some 13 years later, Chris is still intimidated by a car with a stick shift. However, he does like challenges of his choosing. Since leaving high school Chris has traveled to South America, Europe, China, Japan, and Korea. His travels have taught him to adapt well to change and to follow his dreams.
Back to the past, my last two years in high school gave me some unique opportunities. Our school had been gifted 22 small El Toro sailboats, from a local yacht club. They were in terrible shape, broken masts, torn sails, and holes in the fiberglass hulls. They all needed major work, before they could be used for anything. The school decided that they would offer the older students a chance to take sailing three times a week as a PE class, in exchange for taking 7 weeks of hands on summer classes in boat repair, orienteering, basic swimming and life saving, and learning tide charts. There were 25 who started and 18 who finished. It was a fantastic opportunity. I learned some great skills; I still use them today, and spent the next two years sailing, instead of running around the track and doing gymnastics.
These experiences taught me several different things that I carry with me today:
- Short term hardships can reap lasting joy. Like I had mentioned, driving that rattletrap of a car was scary, but because I had to do the hard thing, I had such a feeling of accomplishment when I finally got skilled at driving that Volkswagen. I felt brave, and able to handle anything. I was willing to do other challenges to keep that feeling going.
- The skills I learned transferred to other things. Every vehicle I’ve had since then, was a piece of cake to handle. Like wise, with the boating classes, the skills I learned went way past going for a leisurely cruise on the bay. I’ve used the orienteering, when I go camping and hiking, the repair skills transferred into working on my fixer upper home, the life saving class got me interested in caring for others. And, I can still swim a mile, albeit more slowly than I did when I was 16.
- Letting myself be regularly challenged, helped me to learn new things faster. Any task has a basic formula, or pattern to get it done. The more new things I did, the more quickly I could figure out the process to complete it. Once I figured out how to do it, the task was more interesting and less overwhelming.
- Along the way, I became a life long learner. I created a list of skills I wanted to learn. I figured that the more skills I knew, the better prepared I would be for whatever came along. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve learned so far:
- How to load, safely handle, aim, and shoot a gun and rifle. (I’m a fairly good shot)
- Ride a motorcycle.
- Bake good tasting bread.
- Repair a roof
- Grow my own food.
- Preserve my own food.
- Ride a horse.
- Build a fence.
- Ride a bike long distances.
- Learn Morse code.
- Use a signal flare.
- Shoot a bow and arrow and hit my target.
- Drive a horse cart.
- Drive a dog sled.
- Refinish floors.
- Stay up to date on new technology.
- Weave a basket.
- Make boxes out of folded paper.
- Sew a quilt.
- Refinish furniture.
- Give tours to large groups.
- Learn Latin.
- Drive a forklift ( actually 9 different kinds).
- Load sand bags.
- Rock climb (not my favorite).
- Paddle a canoe and life raft.
- Give basic first aid.
- Make my own jerky.
- Set up a Distribution facility in Mexico.
- Write a blog.
- Do hospice care.
That’s just a sample. There’s a lot more but these are the things that come to mind at this moment in time.
We all want to have a joyful life. Sometimes though, I think we confuse a joyful life with an easy life. We think that success means we’ve gotten to where we need to be, that we have enough money, and we that don’t have to try anymore, or at least not very hard. But we need challenges to be happy. Without those challenges, we stagnate, become complacent, and stop growing. Things actually become harder to do. When we go outside of our comfort zone, we can get that excitement back.
Try something new to you this week. It doesn’t have to be anything big, just something new. See how you feel afterwards. Feel that new spark of excitement. Get good at that new thing. Then try something else.
Here’s to your joyful life.