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What I’ll Tell Sweet E: Learn How to Drive a Stick

Dear Sweet E,

You gotta learn how to drive a stick, sweet boy.

#1: Sticks, or standards, are the most fun vehicles to tool around in. Ask anyone who has ever driven one.

#2: Learning how to drive a stick is a great metaphor for life. You haven’t properly lived until you’ve learned to drive a stick.

I learned in my 30s. In my 30s! It’s never too late to learn.

G-Daddy and I bought a standard truck years before you were born that both your daddy and I learned how to drive.

Since G-Daddy drove a company vehicle, I was left with the truck – it was learn how to drive the beast or be stranded all day.

What I'll Tell Sweet E: Learn How to Drive a Stick

On a quiet Sunday afternoon, the three of us headed to a large mall parking lot. Traffic would be light and G-Daddy and your daddy would pass the time at the arcade while I drove around outside, trying to master the stick.

Prior to that afternoon, G-Daddy and I had gone over the basics, but I was too scared to take the truck out into actual traffic, so a sprawling, mostly vacant, parking lot seemed like a great alternative.

After they left me alone in the truck, I prayed for my safety and for those around me, then started the truck, with the clutch firmly pushed in.

I sat there feeling smug. “Gonna be fine. Ever’thing is fine.”

And it was, until I goosed the gas and let out the clutch.


I’m pretty sure I was laughing the laugh of the terrified.

I immediately let up on the accelerator and jammed the clutch back to the floorboard.

What was I thinking? How in the holy hell was I going to teach myself how to master a stick, when my first try gave me a brain bruise?

The truck was still running – A WIN! – I tried again.


This time I didn’t get the clutch to the floorboard fast enough and stalled out.

I beat on the steering wheel and cussed, frustrated in my inability to drive the truck.

I had listened to everything G-Daddy had told me.

We had practiced on our street.

I knew I could do this, but somehow I wasn’t doing it, so maybe I couldn’t do it.

Any of this sounding familiar?

Have you been so frustrated before that you almost convinced yourself you couldn’t do it?

Have you been so mad you said naughty words and beat on things?

Life is like learning how to drive a stick.

Before you try a new thing, a complicated thing, you read directions, take classes, watch videos, talk with folks who know more than you, glean knowledge, make a plan – a good plan, then start, only to jerk forward and stall out.

~ jerk forward – stall out – naughty words – restart – jerk forward ~

Yeah, pretty much just like that.

I could have stopped there. I could have waited for G-Daddy and your daddy to rejoin me and tell them I failed, to tell them I tried but couldn’t, but I didn’t.

I restarted that truck a hundred times. I jerked it all over the parking lot, for hours.

I practiced stopping at the top of the hills, then moving forward. Like a jerk.

I stalled out hundreds of times. I cussed hundreds of time. I beat the steering wheel with my hands hundreds of times.

I smack-talked the truck: you will NOT win! NOT TODAY!

At one point, mall security started following me around, not quite sure if I needed help or if it was just a fun way to pass the time – watching this woman beat the hell outta her truck. (it was a different time, Sweet E. A gal jerking a standard truck all over a mall parking lot was nothing of concern – only amusement).

After a couple of hours, I experienced tentative success; I could drive my truck (that’s right, now it was mine) without stalling out…much.

I learned from my repeated miscues and false starts. I learned where I needed to ease the clutch and where I needed to goose the accelerator.  I also learned the importance of STANDING on the brake, when needed.

It was exhausting.

When G-Daddy and your daddy emerged, I could officially drive a stick. Ugly drive that badboy, nevertheless, I could do it.

Much of what we learn in this life is the same. It takes a mixture of knowledge, concerted effort and the sheer will to keep jerking forward to produce results.

Practice, practice, practice.

In whatever you learn, in whatever endeavor or dream you embrace, know there will be days when you want to kick the tires and move on to an automatic. Life is easy there, in your comfort zone, right? There’s no jerking forward, stalling out, cussing, or restarting.

The problem with that scenario is you don’t get anywhere new. You’re stuck in automation.

If you want to grow, to expand, to have success on your own terms, you’ll need to learn how to drive a stick and live.

Even if a mall cop is following you and having a good laugh.

Today you may be stalling out and wondering what the heck you’re doing, but with enough restarts, one day you’ll be at the precipice of the biggest hill you’ve ever traveled and KNOW you’ve got this.

After all, you’ve put in the work and all you gotta do is release the clutch slowly while pressing the accelerator, allowing for smooth forward motion.

It’s a glorious thing to overcome, my sweet Sweet E.

With more love than seems humanly possible,




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Nikki Gwin

Tuesday 24th of October 2017

Oh my.... I try not to think of those days! I cried a lot. But I can drive a stick! :) gwingal

Patti Tucker

Tuesday 24th of October 2017

Ha! It's exasperating learning to drive a stick!

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