I'm a lifelong competitive figure skater who has mastered the death drop spin. Still, I was blindsided by the difficulty involved with learning to drive a stick shift automobile. It was harder than any AP or Organic Chemistry course I have taken. I had done an extensive amount of research before I went car-shopping, and I knew just what I was going to get: a Volkswagen Jetta with CarPlay. When I stepped through the doors of the dealership, I saw just the car I was looking for right in the middle of the showroom floor. When the salesman told me that I could lease it for only $99.00 a month, which was considerably less than the price I was planning to negotiate, I thought there had to be a mistake. That’s when he broke the news that only cars with manual transmissions leased for this price. I hesitated for the minute it took me to calculate the amount I would be saving each month and then agreed to the terms. I was trepidatious but determined to rise to the challenge.
My mother was even more apprehensive when she heard the news, but my father was proud of my choice; as the owner of a car with a manual transmission, he thought my decision made perfect sense. I just keep reminding myself that millions of people drive manual transmissions so how hard could it possibly be? The answer, I soon learned, was a lot more difficult than I thought. It was all the more challenging having to do so in front of an audience, but given the amount of grinding of gears and squealing of the tires that first day, I can’t say that I blamed my neighbors for wanting to get a closer look. As if the noise wasn’t embarrassing enough, I also left a trail of evidence of my failed attempts in my wake: black tire marks painting the length of my driveway.
On my second day ‘driving’ a stick, I decided to avoid attracting an audience by turning off the emergency brake, putting the car in neutral, and then rolling backward down the driveway. That solved one problem, but it did nothing to help me once I ended up in the middle of the street. That’s when the delicate balancing act of pressing down on the gas while releasing the clutch began. I comforted myself by repeating what my parents had told me, “First gear is the hardest.” I had to take their word for it, though. I had nothing to compare it to since I had yet to make it out of first gear. By the end of that first week, I had begun to regret my hasty decision to go manual and thought of giving up. That was right about the time that my mother offered to switch cars with me - which was all the motivation I needed to keep trying.
After another week or so of stalling out in the middle of intersections, I finally got the hang of it. One day I got in my car and everything just clicked. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I was finally able to pull out of my driveway rather than roll and drive all the way to school without once stalling out. This experience made me think about all of my other accomplishments over the years that have resulted from what has been called my “stubborn nature”. Maybe what had been labeled stubbornness was just determination all along.