DON’T DO IT BECAUSE IT’S EASY; DO IT BECAUSE YOU CAN AND MUST
By Todd Mitchem
When I turned fifteen, all I could think about was driving. For an impatient teen like me, having a car and driving was the most critical task on my very short list of “must haves” in my life. At the time, money was tight, so I knew a new car was not going to happen. Nevertheless, I begged my dad for a car. I would ask him over and over again to help me get a car, but he would just shrug it off, knowing the cost was an issue. Finances weren’t a picnic for my mother, either; she was busy rebuilding her life with a new husband and additional kids. She didn’t have any money for a car. As my dream for a car grew and grew, I started to see the dire financial issues: on one side was my father and stepmom rebuilding their financial well-being, and on the other side was my mother and stepfather doing the same. This was the unintended consequence of having divorced parents: everyone, including me, had to rebuild their lives; and it took time. Unfortunately for me, an easy way to get a car in time for my sixteenth birthday was simply not presenting itself and, of course, I was panicked.
Then, one day, my father had a car brought to the house. It wasn’t just any car; it was an old, white VW Bug with a black hardtop. The inside looked like a rabid squirrel had attacked it to find the last morsel of food, and the engine looked like it had run into an immovable object at about a hundred miles an hour. The wreck was completely nonfunctioning. I was surprised that we would buy a car that wasn’t working—and I mean light-years away from ever working. Nevertheless, my dad paid around $125 to buy the car. It was for me. I know this will seem ungrateful, but I was not excited. I felt like, “Well, I guess I have something I could call a car”, but the bigger problem was that I felt like it would forever sit in the driveway as a heap of junk. I failed in that brief moment to see the perspective and the point that my father was making, which was to take the journey into restoring it. He took a risk to give me an experience unlike any I had had up to that point in life and, being the teenager I was, I did not immediately grasp the importance. After I stared at it for a while and felt my driving experience being shattered, I finally looked up at my dad, who was patiently standing next to the garage and, with defeat in my voice, I asked, “Now what?” To which he replied, “Now we rebuild it.” And that was all he said. I could only imagine the shock and confusion on my face when he said we were going to rebuild it. I was speechless. This car was dead, actually deader than dead; it was a murdered relic from the past for which resurrection seemed out of the realm of possibility. One light was falling out, the interior was seemingly beyond repair, and the sheer sight of the paint job made my panic worse. I almost said the words, “We can’t.” As I inhaled to get the phrase out, I opened and shut my mouth, because I remembered (as you should from my discussion on this earlier) that my father would have no part of any phrase with the word can’t in it. So the only thing I could do was make a commitment to my father and to myself to rebuild and restore this heap of scrap metal. Isn’t that a metaphor for all of us in our lives? Some situations seem hopeless, and we can feel like the only thing in front of us is a heap of junk. We see any restoration as impossible. Sadly, we can also see ourselves this way as we grow older, work longer, and go through more situations in life. It’s easy for you to feel like I did that day: it’s hopeless, I want to scrap it. And that’s when you need to push forward using the lessons from my book, YOU, DISRUPTED! .
We started working on the car the following day. We forged on, day in and day out, working on that beat-up car and dealing with all of the many challenges in our path. Because I am left-handed and my father is right-handed, we fought constantly about what was the right direction to properly turn bolts. The two of us—my father, who is first a thinker and then a doer, and me, a doer while thinking—created quite some disagreements and arguments about how to approach each task needed to repair and rebuild the car. Even though we had our differences, we kept pushing forward on the car’s repairs and saw days turning into months. This wasn’t a one-day or even a one-month task. The more we fixed and repaired systems or structures on the car, the more challenges seemed to arise. I had never experienced hard and tedious effort like I did with my dad while toiling away on that car. On weekends, we would spend the day and often go late into the night working on one small problem that turned out to be huge. On weekdays, I would come home from school to find myself jumping right into dismantling a seat or installing new wiring. Even after months of hard work, I still couldn’t imagine how this car would ever become something drivable, let alone a vehicle I would want to pick up a date with! Each task seemed daunting.
Every day for a year, I would go to school with banged-up fingers, while my father would head to his job as a leader of his company with the same scratches and bruises. It seemed that every day we hit a new roadblock, from the simple broken bolt here and there, to the more challenging wiring situation that caused the lights to come on only when we turned on the radio. (That actually happened.) On this year-long journey, I learned quite a bit about my dad. He is a man of few words, and the lessons I gained came not by what he said but by how he approached and worked on the project. I learned that he could get frustrated with my lack of care for detail, so I strived to be more careful and specific with the task at hand. I realized that striving to meet his level of attention to detail was actually the best learning experience, especially when you take a little extra time to wire your accelerator cable. I watched my father take on parts of the car restoration that he literally had no idea how he would achieve, only to completely solve the challenge in a way that made it better. That year, he taught me about what you do when you hit an obstacle while you are working on a project. I had to reword his phrasing for the rest of my life’s challenges and this book, but the message was the same: when life serves up a roadblock, you first throw a hammer at the wall, then you walk outside to “think,” then you find a way to solve your challenge, and, most importantly, you don’t ever quit. At least he never threw the hammer my way; well, okay, perhaps once, but I am told it was by accident.
Back then, I didn’t realize we were rebuilding that car not because it was easy but because we could, and we needed to in order for me to have a car on my sixteenth birthday. When I think about the time, money, effort, and energy my father and I put into that car, I gain renewed respect for him as a father. He never gave up on the car, and especially on me, during that year. You should look at your life the same way. If you want to do something and find a way to live a more fulfilled life, then you will need to realize that sometimes you need to reset, reboot, and keep going no matter how hard it gets. If I had allowed the many challenges of the car to be more painful than the Intentional Why of having it, then I would have failed. If my father had not been so dedicated to rebuilding the car for me and helping me find my freedom as a teenager, we would have quit the first time his bare hand slipped off a bolt in the garage and slammed into a jagged edge of metal on the vehicle. It inspired in me the realization that when you have a strong vision and motivation, you keep going—no matter how many cuts and bruises you get—in order to reach the final goal.
Get a copy of Todd's new book, YOU, DISRUPTED now everywhere books are sold. Watch the trailer below.