Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A New Kind of Shifting Gears

I had my car in the shop for service this week and was given a loaner car. All my cars have been manual transmissions, since my very first 1975 Datsun B-210. I prefer standard transmissions, and the ability to shift when and how I want to.

This loaner car was an automatic transmission. I almost always get automatics when I rent cars, so I've driven many over the years. This one, however, was... different.

I didn't pay much attention when I got in the car. I just gave it a passing notice that it was an automatic. I adjusted my seat, and all the mirrors and took off.

I only had to drive a block before the freeway on ramp was in front of me. As I started to accelerate up the ramp, the engine began to really crank up. "This thing needs to be shifted!" I thought to myself.

Here I am on the on ramp to the freeway, in FIRST GEAR, accelerating fast. Uh oh! I tried to look at the gear shifter to figure out exactly what to do. I was worried about throwing the thing into neutral and losing all my speed, which in that circumstance would be bad!

Suddenly, my 'standard transmission' instinct took over, and my left foot went for the non-existent clutch - so I slammed (and I mean SLAMMED) on the brakes! The car jerked violently as I pretty much stopped, and I realized what I'd done. Luckily, no one was right behind me, although the person who was a ways back on the ramp backed way off and I'm certain my erratic driving gave them a moment of extreme discomfort!

I started again and studied the gear shifter as I accelerated, and decided to just tap the nob forward. It shifted to second gear. I then noticed that on the dash board, the 'gear' that you are in is displayed, and it shows you whether you can shift up, down or both up and down, from the current gear. HELLO!

It was really quite simple once I realized how it worked, but I'd never encountered an 'automatic' that you actually had to shift. It was completely unexpected and it took me a while to figure it out and get the hang of it. By the end of the day, when I returned the car, I won't say I was 'seamless' with the new procedure, but I was mostly comfortable and doing it well.

I thought it was an interesting metaphor for how we go through changes in our lives. Sometimes we know how to navigate a change, and 'go through the process of changing gears.' Other times, we are blind sided by a new requirement for 'shifting' that we did not expect, nor do we understand. We have something to learn.

Learning on the freeway on ramp isn't the most comfortable environment, but some of our life changes happen in the fast lane! We don't always have time to comfortably adjust to the new situation or circumstance. Sometimes we are caught totally off guard and we just have to fly by the seat of our pants.

However life is presenting you with changes and challenges these days, cut yourself a little slack as you learn to navigate the new landscape. It doesn't do any good to beat yourself up. Be patient and compassionate with yourself, and allow yourself time to absorb the new information and learn the new ropes.

Happy shifting!

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