by Drew Holmes
When Stuck in the Mud, the Way Forward May Be Backwards
by Drew Holmes
“Steve, I have a problem. I’m stuck.”
As I surveyed the predicament, I thought on the events of the past five minutes and how I had ended up in this mess. It had started normal enough, but as always with situations like this there were warning signs that I ignored.
The first was my choice of vehicle. We have several vans at Boomer Music, but only one has all-wheel drive. I elected not to take that one in favor of the newer, more comfortable van. I was dropping off some instruments to my business partner, Steve, and had pulled around to his walk-out basement as usual.
The weather had turned warmer and, being February in Colorado, there was plenty of melting snow on the ground. This, of course, made certain sections of the ground muddy (warning number two promptly ignored). Having delivered the instruments, I slowly pulled the van up the slight hill to get back to the road. Halfway up I knew I had a problem.
The rear-wheels started to spin on the soft ground, and I could not get enough traction to get to the top of the incline. I decided to let gravity take me back to the bottom of the hill where I hoped to find solid ground and build up speed to muscle my way to the top.
It would have worked if not for mistake number three.
My descent to the bottom brought the back of the van up against a small tree, rear tires atop a layer of snow. I tried to ease the van forward, gently pressing the gas, but the wheels started spinning. Now the only possible direction of travel was forward, but the van had no traction. I needed help.
“Would a shovel help?” Steve asked on the other end of the phone.
“Sure,” I said, willing to try anything. “Do you have any cardboard? We need traction.”
Fortunately, he did but using it effectively proved an arduous task. Whenever a tire found purchase on the cardboard, it rapidly spun and ejected the sheet backwards. Each time the van started forward, I pushed as hard as possible, willing it to the top of the hill. Each time the wheels spun, the van remained in place, erasing what little forward progress we made. The van was getting stuck worse and I was getting frustrated and dirty.
Then I had an idea.
“Get in the driver’s seat,” I said to Steve. “When I push forward give it gas. When the van rocks back ease off. I’m going to rock it until you can get some traction and get off this snow.”
Many times, while practicing a piece of music, I have hit a wall and been unable to make further progress. In those times I have learned to listen to lesson the music is trying to teach me and try a different approach. Then, when the moment is right, come back and try to make just a little progress. Motion, not mastery, is the goal and even steps backward are okay as long as they eventually lead forward. Trying to learn a whole piece at once is a recipe for disaster and will only cause frustration. Instead, we must adapt and work with, not against, the problem.
As I was pushing forward, I resisted the earlier temptation to keep pushing, and let the van rock back. I knew that fighting the momentum was only going to get the van stuck worse. Going with the natural ebbs and flows of the vehicle’s momentum created more forward gains with each push, despite the ensuing backward movement.
Soon, the small rocking motion became bigger and before we knew it Steve had the traction he needed to get the van halfway up the hill. Not repeating my earlier mistake, he kept on the gas, cleared the soft patch of mud, and reached the top. Tired and muddy, I thanked him for his help and got into the van.
By going with the obstacle instead of fighting it, I was able to find a different strategy and free the vehicle. Now all that was left was to find a car wash to clean off the mud.