HR in the Wild: What Driving Lessons with Dad Showed Me About Comfort Zones

“When I say ‘floor it,’ I want you to put your foot all the way down on the gas pedal. When I say ‘cut it,’ I want you to cut the wheel as hard as you can to the left and HOLD IT there.”

– Dad.

We were sitting in an empty, snowy parking lot around sunset back behind a small shopping center. The snow was fresh, and tire marks were nowhere to be seen. I was only about 16 years old, and honestly don’t remember whether I had my license or my temporary permit at that time. I just know that I was in the driver’s seat of the pickup truck, and something pretty wild was going to happen.

My Dad’s approach to driving lessons was… well, “untraditional.” Each of us kids started practicing around 14 or so out in one of the city’s large cemeteries. The reason? The speed limits were very low, traffic was minimal, and building confidence in how to operate a car was the intent. But Dad often took it to another level, too, always having to add in more education along the way. We’d hear things like “There are three beech trees in this cemetery. Find two of the three.” When we’d get there, we’d have to explain what we remembered. While not an arborist, my boilermaker Dad had (and still has) quite the passion for horticulture and dendrology. 🙂

Ready? FLOOR IT.

Back in the parking lot, Dad sat in the passenger seat and very calmly (for him, especially) said “FLOOR IT.” I pushed my foot down on the gas pedal and we started across the snowy parking lot. A couple seconds later, he got louder and shouted “CUT IT, AND KEEP YOUR FOOT ON THE GAS PEDAL!” I cut the wheel to the left, held my foot down on the gas, and the truck started a wild ride of donuts in the empty lot. I didn’t know exactly why we were doing this, but I kept following the directions. After several 360’s in the truck, with Dad laughing in the passenger seat, he shouted “NOW GET YOURSELF OUT.” I didn’t know what he meant, but I started to steer into the direction of the donut, and pretty soon, we swayed our way back to a steady state.

When we were still, he told me to throw it into Park, and we just sat there. The lesson? When you find yourself out of control and fishtailing, steer into it to get traction and get yourself steadied out.

Steer into the Skid

A few months later in the middle of the summer, one of my golf tournaments was rained out. I had my Dad’s truck that day and was taking a left on a busy road during the downpour. In that moment, the truck started skidding out of control and my heart raced out of my chest. It just so happens, though, that the donut practice gave me some of that instant clarity to steer into the skid and get control.

Dad’s lesson? Totally worked. In the snowy parking lot in a controlled environment. And then, in the middle of traffic, while I was praying to not hurt myself or others.

Take a Donuts in Your Comfort Zone

On our last client trip, Kristen and I had plenty of car time again with one another. These driving lessons came up, and we started talking about the parallels to so many other parts of life. Leaving great jobs to start a business? That’s basically doing donuts in a parking lot right there. Parenting children? Even with all the books and advice in the world? It still feels like doing donuts in the parking lot.

I feel my stomach doing donuts when I’m faced with the next big risk, whether it’s a new approach or offering for a client, or an investment that will enable us to grow further, faster. Heck, the whole process this last year has been one giant parking lot of donuts. What I’ve learned, though, is that fighting it and resisting it just keeps the chaos continuing. Instead, when I’ve let myself steer into it to get traction, I regain my footing, find my confidence, and take the next baby step forward.

What are YOU waiting for? FLOOR IT!

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