I’ve taught about a dozen people to drive so far, and it’s not because I’m an adrenaline junkie or a glutton for punishment. It’s because, all things being equal, I prefer the company of people who are competent, empowered, and self-possessed, and there are few things in this world that can undercut those thing as effectively as crappy instruction. And with driving, crappy instruction puts other people’s lives in danger.
For the same reason, I also make it a point to learn something new and extraordinarily difficult every year, if not more often. Being a student keeps the mind fresh, and it’s fun. Through this process, I’ve learned something else that surprises me:
When given the choice between the easy way and the hard way, I almost always chose the hard way, and it’s not just out of bloody-mindedness (though there is a bit of that). It’s that I’ve discovered that when you learn something the easy way, you rarely learn it well.
Take driving. Broadly speaking, there are two ways to learn: automatic or stick.
The automatic transmission removes one of the two most intimidating aspects of driving (the other, which is traffic, can’t be removed) and helps students achieve baseline confidence and competence quicker. There’s less to learn, so what is left can be learned well,and quickly. This is why, in the U.S., the vast majority of student drivers (including nearly all that learn at professional driving schools) learn to drive an automatic.
But bypassing the manual transmission means sacrificing a number of advantages for a trivial gain (lower stress in the first couple days behind the wheel). You sacrifice gas mileage, as sticks are much lighter than automatics, and allow you access to driving tricks that goose your gas mileage without sacrificing emergency performance in traffic.
You also sacrifice control over your car–the manual transmission, even a poor one, offers an extraordinary level of control over the amount of torque delivered to the road surface, and controlling this torque is one of the basic tricks of driving in snow, or performance racing, or escaping from mud, or recovering from a skid. All of this amounts to both a sacrifice of safety and of performance and pleasure. Only the most expensive performance automatic transmissions offer a similar level of control.
Lost too is the ability to drive internationally. Outside the U.S., the automatic transmission is the outlier, while the stick is called a “standard” (because it is standard equipment).
Finally for now (as this list could go on), if you can’t drive a stick you are forever hostage when you find yourself in car-sharing, convoy, or borrowing situations. If you know how to drive a stick and how to handle a large vehicle, you can drive almost any non-specialty vehicle on the planet, in almost any situation (lorries with trailers, and loaders being the exceptions: both require specialized training because of their unusual weight distribution).
Those are a LOT of advantages to sacrifice on the altar of avoiding a couple day’s anxiety, particularly because of another quirk of human nature: most people are okay with “good enough” when it comes to their skill sets. When presented with an opportunity to re-learn a skill at a higher level of complexity, most people will pass on it unless there’s a significant incentive, even if it’s a skill they use every day. Mastery is not enough of a lure for most people, most of the time.
I’m no exception to this one, either. Every time I’ve learned something the easy way, I’ve had to be dragged kicking and screaming when it came time to level-up.
So I’ve gradually learned that whenever it’s time for me to learn a new skill, I must select the road that will give me the broadest, deepest possible grounding as quickly as possible. It’s policy. As most of you reading this blog also pursue your own artistic and/or business endeavors, it’s a policy I recommend to you too.
Because to do something for a lifetime, be it hobby or career, it is essential that you do it as if you intend to master it. Otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels.
Of course, I could be totally out to lunch. What do you think? Leave a comment, let’s get a conversation going.