Saturday, June 06, 2009

Facing My Fear: The Clutch

Ease out on the clutch... Press in on the gas... Slowly, slowly! As I attempted to drift off to sleep, my brain went through the mental exercise. It seemed so easy; then why was I having such a horrible time trying to learn to drive a manual transmission?

Soon after my 15th birthday, I took the written test and received my learner's permit to drive. My dad quickly began giving me driving lessons, which began, like those of all of my siblings before me, in a car with a manual transmission. Before we were allowed to drive a car with an automatic transmission, we had to first master the technique of driving a stick-shift.

His reasoning is good; by learning on the harder car first, we come to understand how cars run, and by the time we drive an automatic, everything is extremely easy! However, I had a really hard time learning to drive with that thing called the clutch. In addition to learning how to stay on the road, use my turn signals and mirrors, and keep everything at the right speed, I drove in apprehension that the car would kill at any moment. As I approached each stop sign or red light, I dreaded having to again push in the clutch and then ease it out when I had to go, pressing on the gas at the precise time and speed so that the car would start without jerking and shaking, or worse yet, dying altogether.

More than one driving lesson ended in tears. My dad told me that driving a manual was fun, that it made me more in control of the car and what it did. "No, daddy," I responded, "when I drive a manual, I feel as though the car is in control of me! I have to do exactly what it needs at exactly the right time, or it will die on me!"

As time went on and I got a little more used to driving, some of the fear eased. I learned to drive decently on the stick-shift, and finally proceeded to be allowed to drive the automatic cars. It was so nice and easy! From then on I began to avoid driving the manual cars, asking to drive the automatics instead. And, for the most part, I was able to do so, until a year or two slipped by without me driving a manual transmission car at all.

It was quite silly, but each time I thought about driving a stick-shift, I would get a sick feeling in my stomach. I watched my parents and siblings drive the cars with ease, and I memorized what they did. The rhythm played over in my head - ease up, press in - but when it came to actually doing it, I balked. It was just too hard!

The fears were unfounded, but crazy scenarios would play out in my mind. I could just see it: I would begin to turn left, but instead of starting, the engine kills and I roll out into the intersection as I see a car coming full speed ahead. In panic I try to start the car, but I'm going too fast and it kills yet again... We're going to get smashed!

Though it is such a small thing - after all, many people drive manuals with hardly a tremor, and I've not heard of any accidents caused by the car engine killing - for me, driving a stick-shift was a huge thing. As I continued avoiding it, the thought of it became even scarier.

It went on like this all the way through last spring. Since my dad really likes manual transmissions, and they tend to get better gas mileage, however, most of the family cars ended up having them. That put me with a limited number of cars I could/would drive, which made it inconvenient for my family more times than one. Finally, I determined that I would do the hard thing and face my fear. As I prepared to come home from college, I promised myself that I would ask dad to again teach me to drive on the stick-shift, and that I would continue at it, practicing even when I didn't feel like it, so that I could master the technique.

I told my dad about my resolution while he drove me home from college, and he seemed pleased. After all, I have been driving for almost 4 years now, so it was about time! I continued to watch him as he handled the car, and he explained a few things that he did. I mentally prepared myself and prayed for strength and courage.

Three weeks ago, the day arrived for me to have my first lesson. Dad told me that he needed to go to the store a few miles away, and that he wanted me to drive him. Tentatively, I took the keys and got in. He reminded me of a few things, I pressed in on the clutch, started the engine, attempted to start the car, and promptly killed. I had done things too fast. Not to be daunted, determinedly, I began again. This time, although it jerked a little, the gears caught and we were on our way.

That first day went well. Although I killed twice more, it wasn't in any major traffic areas. Dad took me around the neighborhood and had me practice starting on hills, and by the end, he said I was driving just fine. Although I felt far from a pro, the fear was all but gone. I could do this in God's strength! It really wasn't that hard!

After riding once more with me, Dad said that I was definitely good enough to drive the manual transmission cars alone. Though I felt a little shaky and somewhat stressed when driving a stick-shift, I began to get more confident. In order to give me more practice, and because the cars do get better gas mileage, he's been having me drive them to most things I go to. And each time, it's become a little easier. I haven't killed once since that first day, and I'm beginning to sense when I need to shift and how quickly to press on the gas when starting. What used to be such a fearful thing is becoming second nature.

I still have a lot to learn, as I can be slow starting out, and sometimes I race the engine when I'm nervous about a line of cars behind me waiting for me to go. I still prefer to drive the automatic cars - after all, they are easier! - but I no longer dread driving the stick-shifts. God gave me the grace to face my fear, and I now actually understand my former enemy, the clutch, in much better way.

For those of you who think driving a manual is easy and even fun (I'm not there yet, but I'm beginning to understand the enjoyment), my fears probably sound silly and unreasonable. For those of you who haven't yet had the privilege (okay, I'm a little sarcastic here...) of driving a manual transmission, this post may not have made a lot of sense. And don't be scared or driving one if you haven't - most of my siblings had no trouble learning; I'm one of the only ones that made such a huge, scary mess out of driving them! My dad has been so patient, however, continuing to encourage me and trust me with the car even when I felt far from able!

Why do I share my struggles and unreasonableness with the world? I want to encourage you to take that first step, to do hard things, and to face your fears in the strength of the Lord. For each of us, that hard, fearful thing will be different. Some things that seem huge to you will be of little consequence to others. The important thing is that you not compare yourself to what others are doing, but instead act faithfully in the place you are now. The little things that you face and force yourself to do will prepare you for the bigger things that loom ahead.

The hard things in my summer aren't over, but this was one of the biggest and scariest for me to face. What about you? What is one thing that you can take initiative to face and overcome this summer? There's no time like the present to start!


Jessie-Bessie said...

I'm very unco-ordinated so my dad didn't even attempt to teach me to drive a manual....luckily we only have auto cars at my house. But I admit I really should learn how to drive one in the future, whats funny tho is that my friends who learnt on manuals hate autos!

Anonymous said...

One hard thing that I'm facing this summer is my first job. I work at a fast food restaurant and I started a couple of days ago. The job is very demanding and physically tough. It also requires a lot of mental skills like memorization. Even though I don't like it I already learned a lot of things like being more understanding of why my parents are tired when they get home from work and being patient and kind with workers when I go out to eat because it is not an easy job. Every day I make it an effort to go to work with cheerfulness and kindness because of what Jesus has done for me and with him nothing is impossible. I believe I will conquer this hard thing by his grace. And in several days I also will be learning to drive a stick-shift. Looking forward to it!!!


Ella said...

I can understand your Dad's logic about manual cars. Ours are automatic, though, so I won't have to go through the agony of a stick shift =)

Fear, ah yes. My "do hard things" for this summer is flying by myself. I am petrified, thinking of all the things that could go wrong (missing my connection, the plane getting into a plane crash, etc.) Sometimes, I feel like letting the fear getting the best of me.....but that isn't right. Besides, I want the end result of what the flying will bring

Lana said...

the clutch is cool....I've gotten a whole ONE lesson on it this year. lol

Anonymous said...

I am only 13 and already understand you being nervous, I would be scared to be driving out on the rode, especially if it was a busy one!

Maggie, 13

A child of the King said...

Hi Anna, thanks for sharing your experience! Learning a manual car can be daunting, but I'm glad you've decided to leave it in the Lord's hands and let Him give you the courage to give it a go! :-)

My family doesn't own any automatic cars and like your dad my mum wouldn't let me drive an auto until I learnt the manual way. I haven't really driven any autos yet anyway, and I do prefer manual as you have more control over the vehicle etc.

Katarina said...

Thank you for posting about this! It makes me feel a little better knowing that I am not the only one who had to deal with fear of the clutch. :D

Having been in the same spot these past two months I understand 100% how you feel. And have come to learn how to drive without stalling and have learned when to change gears. For me it has come to be something I enjoy. :D

I have been stalled in an intersection, it was a little scary for me. Thankfully the tractor wasn't coming at me to fast. :)

Keep at it, you will soon learn the enjoyment of driving a stick-shift. :D

Ali said...

Even though I'm fourteen my dad is teaching me how to drive a manual also. But once I got used to the feel of the clutch, it got easier and easier.

Jack's Mommy said... dad and mom did the same thing to me at 15 - they made me learn on the stick (dad's small pickup) before being allowed to drive manual. I learned it pretty well, and although I have preferred (and driven) automatic through the years, I still remember how to drive stick. My husband now has a stick and I'm glad in the knowledge that if I *had* to (if something happened to my automatic!!) I could easily drive his car or any other stick I was near. It's a nice feeling to go through life knowing you *can* drive the harder cars!

Maria said...

I am quite thankful that I started on an automatic! I did drive our manual a bit last year on my permit, but it requires extreme care in the lower gears and I didn't quite get it.

Since the snow melted, I have been driving it again and have gotten quite good at it, though my parents have yet to let me drive it in a large city.

All in all though, stick shifts are more fun!


jiten said...

its always better to go through the driving manuals and instruction before pressing the brake and clutch.
you should always go properly through Driving Test Videos and Lessons before starting the real driving. it going to be safe for you and others

Renate said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one! My family only own manual cars. In South Africa we can only get a Learner's Licence after we turn 17 years old. However, I was scared of the clutch and scared of the traffic (I live in a fairly large city) and so I simply procrastinated. Now, months after my 18th birthday (when theoretically I can get a Driver's Licence) I have my learner's and through God's grace I am learning to cope with my fears. And finding that even a "small commonplace" thing like driving can glorify God!


P.S. And like you, learning to drive is on my "hard things to do" list. :)