It’s almost noon and I’m in my car, driving Victor, my son, to his school. We spent some time at my place, watching movies and working on his latest project, rockpedia.co. Victor is almost 14. He’s into rock music (obviosuly) and all the stuff of a typical teenager.
“When did you learn to drive so well?” he asks, out of the blue. The question is brutally taking me by surprise. Not only because I never thought at myself as being a good driver, but also because of the context. We were slowly talking about some concerts that we are about to see in the next few weeks, and then, out of nowhere, this question.
“Well, I don’t know”, I answered, just to keep the conversation running. A more thoughtful answer would have required me to stop the car and start thinking over. “Might be experience?” tried Victor to help. “By all means, why not?” I answered, somehow relieved.
And then I really started to think. And since I was also focused on the road, I chose the lighter version of thinking: namely, some rough number crunching.
“I think I have more than 200.000 kilometers on board”, I said. “200.000 kilometers is a lot. I think I learned to drive so well during those 200.000 kilometers”, I continued. “How many accidents did you have?” asked Victor. “None serious”, I answered. “Only three. I was hit two times by two different idiots, and then the third well, it wasn’t technically an accident, since I was able to avoid it. We touched, but it could have been much worse”.
And then I realized that Victor was right. I was a good driver. As a matter of fact, I am a really, really good driver. And I’m not talking about speed, or racing or other childish stuff like that. I’m talking about the ability to get myself safely from one place to another, by car. And yes, the third incident, the one that I avoided, was really close.
As I started to recall the context of that accident, all the adrenaline started to rush again. It was a matter of seconds in which I had to take the decision to stop, or to step on it. The other car was slowly crossing the road, out of nowhere, 50 meters in front of me. I was driving a 2 tons SUV, coming forward at about 70 km/h. In a split of a second, I decided it would be much better to step on it rather than trying to hit the brakes. It’s kinda hard to stop a 2 tons car. Especially since you spotted a possible trace, a very narrow corridor, between that slow car and the other side of the road. “If that car would go forward at the same speed, and if I steer exactly 1 meter to right, I can come first”, I said to myself. And that’s exactly what I did. I stepped on it to the floor, then gently, extremely gently steered to the right and came right in front of the other car, just scratching my left rear light to his bumper. My car was a really solid SUV, so the impact, as light as it was, made his bumper fly 20 meters away. My car was barely scratched.
And then, after the adrenaline started to slow a bit and I was paying more and more attention to the road in front of me, in my present car, near Victor, I realized it wasn’t a matter of seconds. It was a matter of under a second. All these decisions, all these reactions, took place in less than a second.
“I think I had around 180.000 kilometers when I avoided that accident”, I said to Victor. “How much is 180.000 kilometers? Like Romania?” he asked. “Oh, no, not at all”, I answered.
And then I started to crunch some other numbers. “You know, I think it’s 4 times the equator. 4 times around the world by car”. His eyes grew like two truck lights in the darkest night ever. “4 times around the world? Oh my!”
Day By Day
I didn’t make a goal from my driving. I just did it every day.
And it started really slow, if you’re curious. My father didn’t let me drive his car, so that made me a little bit reluctant to the whole thing. My friends were impressing girls with their father’s cars already, but I couldn’t do it. Some of my friends even managed to steal their parents cars when they weren’t at home, but I couldn’t do this either.
So, when I had my first driving lesson, I was around 22 or 23 years old. I did it mostly because “you gotta have your license driver, right?”. And, without too much bells and whistles, I took my driver license.
My first car was a Dacia. A wreck. The engine was constantly overheating and tons of white smoke emerged from under the hood. Most of the times, this happened when I was in the middle of some crowded intersection.
The next car was a Skoda Fabia. Easier to drive and nicer. I did my first inter city trip with that, more than 450 kilometers.
And the next one was an Opel Astra, the sport version. I crossed the country back and forth with it and it also was the first car in which I visited Europe.
Then, since I owned for three years the biggest car portal in Romania, I started to drive pretty much every car that was imported in my country. We used to do this on a regular basis in order to write reviews on the site. So, I started slow, but I went forward.
You Don’t Even Know You’re Doing It
As I wrote this, as I started to unfold a series of apparently dull and unimportant events on my life, emerged from a simple conversation with my son in my car, I realized something extremely powerful.
And that is the power of doing things constantly. It’s not like the habit of it. It’s much more than that. It’s part of your life. It’s so melted into your existence that it doesn’t really show up anymore. You can’t say it’s there, but you’re doing it. Just like I eventually drove hundreds of cars (and I mean it, hundreds of them) because it was part of my day to day job.
And, at some point, I was able to stop a terrible thing. I prevented a horrible accident, in under a second, because all my reflexes, all my experience and all my skills were so fit together, so easy to access and to use, that it almost look like nothing to me. It was natural. The decision to step on it instead of stopping it. The narrow corridor I isolated in a split of a second. The steering, so smooth and yet so perfect, that it left the driver of the other car speechless, unable to respond to any of my (I admit, quite angry) questions, while he was holding his bumper. He might as well have seen an alien, that day…
So, what is the area in your life when you’re doing things so often, so constant, so good that you don’t even realize you’re doing them? Do you have such an area in your life? Some area where you started really slow, but then stayed there and did it every day? Each and every day? If you do, I bet you think it’s just a dull and unimportant thing, right?
Well, think again. Because one day, after you’ve been to the end of the world and back for at least 4 times doing that thing, somebody will notice how wonderful you are when you’re doing it.
13 thoughts on “The Slow And Almost Invisible Reward Of Doing Things Constantly”
Woah…really cool article! The way you used the story really kept me reading and drove the point home. Nice. (ha…didn’t realize the pun of using ‘drove’ at first…)
Yeah, perseverance is one of the keys to the universe, I think. Just doing something over and over for an extended period of time will eventually get you what you want and get you good at stuff. Obviously so many people are in the instant gratification mindset that they don’t take the time to but in the effort. If I had to add my one tip here, I’d say forming habits is a great way to put into practice what you’re talking about in the post. Habits can be good and bad – so pick a good productive one and get at it. From what I’ve learned, habits usually take at least 21 days to form – so stick with it for at least that long!
Thanks for this post, I really enjoyed it!
Hi there Dragos. Isn’t it funny how kids make you think about the darnedest things. They are so much more aware of the tiny things we take for granted. We’re all good at so many things, yet the focus is often on the few that we have trouble with. Fortunately, it takes but a single moment to turn that all around.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Just found your blog through Stu’s post. I very much enjoyed reading your story and watching how you processed the situation. What do I do without thinking? I’ve been doing calligraphy for over thirty years and now it is easier for me to use it to address an envelope than handwriting. I’m hoping I’ll eventually become as skilled at typing on these iPods with my thumbs!
It’s nice to meet you!
A wonderful sentiment Dragos – and it really resonated with me. I think of myself as a really good and safe driver as well. I’ve been driving for about 13 years and never really considered that it was the slow accumulation of all that experience that bought me to where I was today. I tried to think about something else that I was really good at due to years and years of constant, slow practice. At first I couldn’t. I’ve only been in business for 6 years and couldn’t possibly claim to be great at it. But then it struck me – I studied (academically), very successfully from age 5 to age 29 (school, degree, masters, Phd). That’s 24 years of constant work. As a result, I would consider myself a great learner. I think I’m able to learn pretty much anything I set my mind to. I guess it was all those years where studying was simply part of me, part of my life. Thanks for helping me realise that!
My point exactly 🙂 You’re not even doing it. It’s part of your life. 🙂
Hi Dragos, I really enjoyed this story…and your method of delivering a few important life lessons. Firstly, making the time to ‘listen’ to your son’s question made you think something through rather than just fob him off with a clichÃ© like for example ‘it comes with experience’. which would also have killed the conversation. Secondly, it is important that we understand how repetition forms habits which become our second-nature. And thirdly, this makes me more determined to carry on writing every day in a disciplined way (rather than sulking if the muse doesn’t turn up) until the habit becomes so deeply ingrained that I will stop being a drama queen and making a big deal on a lacklustre day…and just keep on steadily fine-tuning my craft. Thanks Dragos…;)
You’re welcome, Rosemary. I need this reminder too, you know. It’s just some days are better than others…
So we must be conscious of our activity patterns, and audit them often. For what we do regularly, will become a habit, and we will bear the fruit of that habit, be it good or negative.
alternatively, you can just do the damn thing every single day, until you do it right. 🙂
There is a little difference between doing things constantly and doing things regularly. When on works constantly, he may not for a habit but learn by intuition and same thinking because of the chronological sequence of thoughts and brain patterns.