I FINALLY learned how to drive at the age of 29. It all happened very quickly in the late spring of 2016. I was living in Ireland, but was moving back to live in France.
My intention was to live in a little cottage, with minimal amenities, in the middle of nowhere, and write a book. And in order for me to do this, to live in such a secluded location, I needed a car and needed to know how to drive it.
The day after I passed my test I flew to France. I spent the next two months living in a city until it was time to move out to the countryside and start my new writing adventure. I had my driving license but no car. A friend helped me navigate the equivalent of the French Autotrader. With his help, I bought a golden Citroen Saxo (1998) for 800 euros and was ready to go. The night before I set off, I put petrol in the car for the first time.
This would be my first time driving alone, but it would also be my first time driving on the other side of the road and with the steering wheel on the other side of the car. I wrote down on a piece of paper the name of the village I was driving to, and a few of the town names in between, in the order that I should pass them if I were going the right way. Google Maps on my friend’s computer was telling me that it was a four and-a-half hour journey.
I can remember the last two things I asked my friend the morning that I set off: what speed did I need to be at in order to change up into fifth gear? And how to overtake a car? I had done neither during my lessons, nor had I ever driven on the motorway.
Six hours later, I was tearful on the side of the road, having run out of petrol still two hours away from my destination. I was lost and in excruciating pain – my back and shoulder muscles had tightened themselves into a knot about an hour into my journey. I had no idea where I was and no battery on my phone.
So what’s the moral of the story?
Well, it’s all relevant. It’s all relatable. It’s performance. It’s energy efficiency. It’s success and failure. It’s what stands in front of every athlete wishing to achieve something. It’s the journey between point A and point B.
Point A is who we are at the very moment we choose to go somewhere. Point B is that somewhere – it’s our vision for ourselves.
As a Performance Coach, I have quite a number of athletes who contact me with the same desire – to improve their performance. And the first question I ask is always “what does improved performance look like?” You see, ‘I want to improve’ is all well and good to say, and to hear yourself say, but if you don’t know what that looks like in practice then chances are you are never going to get there.
The first step to going anywhere is to know where you are going, to establish a very clear Point B. Knowing your destination is the key to any journey, but it’s also the key to being efficient with your energy. There is not much point in having a full tank of petrol, but driving around aimlessly. You won’t get anywhere and you’ll empty the tank – leaving yourself in tears by the side of the road.
Establish your point B. Be descriptive. Know how your improved performance looks, what you will be able to do that you aren’t capable of doing now. And once you know that, then it’ll be much easier to build a strategy to get you there. I had a rough idea of where I was going, but a rough idea only created a flimsy itinerary, and I got lost. Had I taken the time to really work out where I was going, I would have then been able to understand how to get there, and I would never have run out of energy along the way – or at least I would have been on the right path to efficiently refuel and keep going.
Too many athletes make their improvements intangible things. They don’t define what it is they want, and so they are incapable of creating an efficient strategy in order to get there. And an inefficient strategy – like poor directions – will only lead to you getting lost and burning out along the way.
I sat in my sunburnt golden Citroen Saxo, on the side of the road, and wondered where it had all gone wrong. I was exhausted, my back in knots, the page of half written directions cast onto passenger seat, and all round me people – who I thought were much less than who I was – efficiently going to their destination.