I stood beside the gray sedan, staring at my reflection in the window and thinking, “Driving. This is going to change my life.”
And it was life-changing – teaching me lessons that were not just valuable behind the wheel, but in business as well.
“Hop in!” said Mary from the front passenger seat, arm draped over her personal steering wheel and her long Elvira-like fingernails tapping on the dashboard one by one.
I had heard stories about Mary. Stories that made me fear for my life.
“Ugh! Mary’s your driving instructor? She’ll just stick her arm through her steering wheel so you can’t turn yours!” cautioned one teen.
“She’ll slam on her brakes to see how you react!” lamented another.
But for whatever reason, this woman, who was clearly doing the Lord’s work by being a driving instructor in the first place, actually took a shine to me and only yelled when necessary.
Lesson 1: Starting work with a new client requires an open mind and a clean slate.
No tricks. No brake checks. Just a woman teaching a brooding teenager how to drive.
But Mary had one trick up her sleeve that even she didn’t know about.
And it happened during my first in-traffic driving experience. On a busy Street in Columbia, Maryland. During rush hour.
My foot was steady on the gas pedal. I used my indicators to signal my lane changes and ensured that I was clear before going. Easy-peasy.
But as I moved with the flow of traffic, the car lurched forward.
Lesson 2: Moving your business forward is not just about keeping your foot on the pedal, it’s about making sure you are keeping it fueled.
“One of her tricks?” I thought.
“What are you doing?” Mary sniped.
“I don’t know!” I quivered, tightening my fingers around the wheel.
The car lurched again. And again. And yet again.
Lesson 3: Don’t be so quick to dismiss the thoughts and words of those around you. You never know who holds key pieces of information that allow you to solve the problems at hand.
Mary was fuming. “Keep your foot steady on the pedal!”
“I am!” I yelled, holding back the tears.
“Ohhhh… noooo,” She finally said, glancing at the gas gauge. “We’re out of gas.”
Lesson 4: The old saying, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” is not entirely true. Sometimes poor planning impacts everyone you do business with.
Mary was no longer yelling at me, but the cars behind me directed their angry horn-blowing and hand gestures at the herky-jerky car that screamed, “Hi! I’m a student driver!”
“Put your hazard lights on!” Mary demanded of me.
Now, anyone who had a car in the 1980s will remember that the hazard lights were usually a button at the end of a rod off the steering column that had to be pressed to turn on. But I was so damn nervous, I had no idea where to even begin to find the switch.
Seeing my panic, Mary took matters into her own hands – err, nails – and reached her right hand across her chest inserting her nail right into that hole to turn the stupid lights on.
Lesson 5: Just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it’s always going to be good for business.
“Ugh,” Mary groaned, fingernail still impressing the button, “I’m stuck.”
Unwilling to sacrifice her acrylic glory, Mary kept her fingernail pressed into that button while I steered the slowly coasting car across a gap in oncoming traffic to get to a parking lot.
In a time before cell phones, I can’t tell you how we ended up getting help. I can’t tell you how we got gas or how much later I ended up getting home.
All I can tell you is that I lived through it.
I still laugh about it to this day.
And most importantly, I learned from it.