This winter has been a mess, especially wednesday two weeks ago. Overnight, the clouds vomited a pile of snow onto Minnesota that made driving conditions an adventure. Against my better judgement, I chose to get coffee over lunch. I knew I would risk losing my parking space and have to drive through the unplowed Minneapolis streets, but the $2 mocha (today only!) would be worth it.
Pulling into the tiny unplowed parking lot, I pause as a police officer is reversing out of what is soon to be the only open parking space. He drops his lead foot on the gas pedal to plow through the thick snow, but his wheels just spin like a cartoon character. I’m now in a dilemma.
When I see someone struggling, my urge is to help. I’m a decent member of society.
The officer lifts his foot from the gas and without much hesitation kicks down like he’s stomping out a fire. Wheels spinning, his police cruiser slowly drifting sideways. No forward momentum.
Helping a cop in this situation is uncomfortable. I could get out of my car and push, but what if he thinks I’m up to some funny business? Not to put myself down, but I wouldn’t exactly be pushing with the force of an American gladiator. Even if I could push him out of the parking lot, this wouldn’t solve his actual problem. What’s he going to do the next time it snows and I’m not around?
A police offer walking into Subway stops to shout, “Turn your wheels!” He listens and wildly fishtails out of the parking lot.
I coast my Kia Optima into the same spot as him, get my $2 mocha, and pull out of the spot and the parking lot without any problems. No aimless wheel spinning. When the cop was spinning his tires for the third time, I wanted to grab him by his coat and yell, “Stop trying so hard!”
“Try harder” isn’t always good advice. Nothing is always good advice. “Drink lots of water!” is bad advice if I’m drowning in the ocean. Everything depends on context. The harder you try to drive through snow, the more stuck you become. Driving through the snow from a stopped position requires a soft start.
I wasn’t born with the ability to drive competently in the snow. I can sympathize with people in cities that get 2 inches and people panic themselves into a ditch. I became a snow driving expert the same way Tiger Woods became an expert in golf. Tiger used to practice under harsh conditions, with people yelling at him or in the rain, so when it came time to play for keeps it was easier than his practice.
In high school I drove a 1986 manual transmission Saab, which made driving in the snow like running on ice. Add to that equation a job delivering pizzas + plenty of practice sliding around corners and into snow banks and/or front lawns and the result is that you learn how to drive in the snow which is also learning about working with an unpredictable environment.
To master driving in the snow, you must act natural and fluid. You don’t force your way through it but adapt to it. And no surprise to me, any time I have an epiphany, it turns out the Chinese and/or Japanese got there a few hundred (if not thousands) of years before me.
They call it wu wei which is the paradoxical concept (like a lot of good advice) of effortless effort or action by non-action. As Wikipedia explains:
As the planets revolve around the sun, they “do” this revolving, but without “doing” it. As trees grow, they simply grow without trying to grow. Thus knowing how and when to act is not knowledge in the sense that one would think, “now I should do this,” but rather just doing it, doing the natural thing.
Clear as mud? It’s hard to explain, but easier to experience. The first step is to accept the situation you’re in.
I think about men without hats (not the 80s band and this does relate to the overall point of this post… hang with me). I first noticed the phenomenon of men in cold weather not wearing hats while waiting in line at Best Buy on Black Friday. I was worried about hypothermia while wearing my puffy Russian hat. Looking around the crowd I couldn’t believe the number of old men not wearing anything to protect their ears or head. How was this possible? I believe as you get older than your strength gets funneled into your hands, but does your head also improve its ability to retain heat?
This is the coldest winter I can remember. Any day above 0 degrees feels like spring break. It has taken my entire life, but I finally learned how to deal with the cold weather–accept it. Wishing things were different always makes it worse. It’s a pointless fantasy. It’s trying to use force to change circumstances. Accepting that it’s 0 degrees outside makes it easier to live in that weather. It doesn’t make it preferable to 75 and sunny, but that slight change in thinking makes a big difference.
With age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes acceptance and with acceptance comes the ability to be content without a hat. Try harder isn’t always good advice. Everyone could benefit from putting more effort into various things in their life, but what makes life interesting is that not everything benefits from effort. Many things, but not everything.