SO, IT IS OVER 40 DEGREES CENTIGRADE AND WE ARE COMPLETELY STRANDED 50 MILES FROM THE NEAREST TOWN…
Full disclosure this was not my proudest moment, it was 2004 and I was travelling on a remote off-road track near Marble bar in Western Australia with my girlfriend in our beloved Toyota ‘Scarlett’. We had already traveled over 5000 miles, much of it off road and were in a wonderful ‘fearless’ bubble with a thirst for adventure.
With about 4 hours of light left of the day, and having already driven 400 miles, when faced with a ‘short cut’ through a deserted, unmade road, we decided, despite the road side warnings ‘that this road is not often used, advance at your own risk’ that it was worth the risk to get to the hostel and the promise of a cold beer an hour or two earlier than if we took the longer, tarmac route round.
The road was amazing; breath taking landscapes of rolling red dust. The fizzing sense of isolation, adding to the excitement and feeling of in trepidation.
IT ALL WENT WRONG, WITH A SIMPLE PUNCTURE.
To be fair, I was probably taking the road a bit fast given the terrain, that thought of the cold beer made my foot heavy.
The puncture was inconvenient, but we had a wrench and a spare tyre. We congratulated ourselves that it had taken this long (3 months) until we would actually have to use them.We jumped out into the still explosive heat, the sky turning to shades of pink and orange. “Right, show me what you got.. we’re on the clock!” Emma smiled passing me the jack, as we both looked at the sun sinking in the sky.
The problem really came about when we realised that neither of us knew how to access the spare tyre. It w
as cradled under the car, attached by a thick chain tight to the base of an already very overloaded car. We squatted in the dirt, sweat pouring down our backs, flies already at the corner of our mouths. “So, how the hell does it come off?” Emma’s voice trying to conceal the sharp new tone.
“I don’t know” I replied slightly embarrassed. “I think there is a special tool to lower it.” “Well where is it?” She said
“I don’t know” I replied again, I was starting to panic, “I haven’t actually ever seen it.” In my mind, I heard her tut and say “Great…You were supposed to get the car kitted out when you were in New South Wales, bunch of help you are in an emergency!” But, she actually just raised her eyebrows and bit her lip. But, it was true and I was starting to feel surprisingly unmanly at this point.
The sun had started to sink rapidly and we decided to make camp, agreeing that we would stand a better chance of sorting ourselves out in the light. Also, we both reasoned that if anyone came past we could flag them down and ask for help (both knowing, but not acknowledging that this was highly unlikely). Feeling totally drained, we decided not to set up the tent, but crawled into the make shift bed that took up all of the back seats and rear cab. We lay there, hot and wide awake, trying desperately not to think of worse case scenarios and newspaper headlines of ‘Brits lost in outback’. We woke, after very little sleep, with the sunrise. No one had come past at all.
NOT MUCH HAD CHANGED, EXCEPT OUR RISING LEVEL OF PANIC AND THE
INCREASING HEAT AND FLIES.
We still couldn’t find the tool. I tried to set up a tarpaulin to create shade, but failed dismally. We pulled bags and equipment out of the car, jumping erratically from one task to another. We hadn’t slept. We hadn’t eaten much. We had water, but for how much longer. We felt increasingly under pressure. We just couldn’t figure it out - Why was changing a tyre this hard?
IT WAS GETTING HOTTER. BY 7AM IT FELT LIKE IT MUST ALREADY HAVE BEEN OVER 30 DEGREES.
Each minute that passed felt like we were destined to be stuck there for an eternity. In utter desperation, I started hacking at the chain with the saw attachment of my swiss army penknife. Lying under the car, flies and sweat in my eyes, I sawed and sawed that damned chain with jaw locking determination. It wasn’t the best solution, but in that moment I felt like it was the only solution. I had to get this damned spare tyre off the car.
It must have taken an hour or more and then finally it was free and the tyre landed with a satisfying thud under the car. After that we changed the tyre surprisingly easily. We stuffed everything back into the car and started back on along the track towards the main road (at a much more cautious pace).
As the wheels felt tarmac under them again, we both started to breath a bit more easily. At last, sharing our inner thoughts at how we had dodged a pretty exposed situation, and weren’t we lucky to be so resourceful (mmm).
We pulled into the next available gas station and hostel and enjoyed a good breakfast and a welcome shower. Our tyre was fixed. We had much leg pulling from the local mechanic and also a cautionary talking too, about ‘bloody pommies getting themselves stuck’. Why have I shared this story?
Well, this all happened a long time ago before I had even dreamed, I would become a career coach and before I knew anything about how the mind works.
Hormones like norepinephrine and cortisol are involved at times of stress and our reptile brain just reacts with fight and flight feedback. We don’t reflect and we don’t respond, we react, and we can’t think straight.
Sometimes in this type of moment however hard we look at a problem we can’t see the solution.
What happened in Australia three days later was a bit like this. We had emptied the car of bags and camping equipment and lifted the rear seat (and bed). As we heaved the heavy seats up back into position. We both stood their staring first at each other and then at the compartment under the seats.
“IS THAT WHAT I THINK IT IS?” asked Emma looking at the long steel handled jack handle. We both laughed. It was so simple, it slipped through the small hole of the bumper, hooked a lock and span easily around to lower the tyre, easily and gently down.
Sometimes something simple can evade you if you don’t have the tools, if you don’t know where to look for help. If you can’t think clearly.
In the stress of our day-to-day, how often do we give ourselves pause to reflect and slow down. How often do we take a moment to consider what we need?
Don’t get me wrong, I am still rubbish at most manual and DIY type stuff, but I do understand how to slow down, how to ask for help, and how to come out of the stress of a moment better.
Our adventure in Australia could have been a lot worse if we had done something foolhardy like leave the vehicle and try and walk to find help. We did solve the problem eventually and think around it but not without a lot of stress and unnecessary effort. That is my point here, it doesn’t always have to be hard, or unrewarding if you have a good approach to something. If you are at a cross roads in your career. If you have lost your direction and feel unsure of your purpose...
IT MAY BE TIME TO SLOW DOWN, PAUSE AND REFLECT.
It might be time for some new tools and a new perspective.
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