Friday, June 15, 2012

We All Race in the Rain Sometimes

"The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein became my favorite book almost after reading the first page. I mean, it's a book that's told from a dog's perspective, it's peppered with racing analogies, history and imagery and it's written in such a easy, casual style that getting through it is a breeze. As much as I enjoy literary challenges like The Lord of the Rings, etc it's refreshing to read something that just zips along free and easy in your mind sometimes. After having just finished my third full read through of the book, I hosted a discussion about it the other night at a local library that went very well, and days later I now find myself still thinking about many of the books themes. Without question the most significant and easy to see is the connection between racing and life, and more specifically, the idea that we all experience "rain" while navigating the racetrack that makes up our journey here on Earth.

Driving a high powered car on a racetrack at over one hundred miles per hour requires a balance of mental and physical skills including timing, patience, precision, speed, concentration, strength, endurance and a unique balance of bravery and fear. That Yin/Yang equation alone can be what separates a driver that finds themselves rarely finishing a race from one that's consistently at the top, as it's very hard to live on that fine thread which binds those two powerful emotions for any length of time. However racing at it's heart, I believe, is truly about balance, or more so how one balances all their skills along with everything from track conditions, to the car's dynamics and of course the  limitations of physics. In life, as in racing, finding that balance is integral to being successful, happy, and reaching a place near the end of our days where we feel like we've achieved what we set out to do, and to have found peace. Each one of us employs various tactics to do this of course, and some work better than others, and some not at all, so that when the "rain" falls on the track we slip and slide and eventually hit the wall. Yet every race driver out there experiences difficulty in the rain-even the narrator of TAORITR, Enzo's hero Ayrton Senna wasn't perfect at it, though he was very good-so, how do we strike a balance between driving the track of life where we can move free and fast on the straights yet not crash and burn in the tight turns or when the rain falls? Well, to use the oft-quoted phrase in the book "Your car goes where your eyes go".

When you're driving through a turn in a race car, and the rear end has stepped out on you a bit (as you want it to a little in most cases) and you've just clipped that Apex and have another turn coming up quickly in front of you, any decent driver knows that the only chance you have of getting where you need to be and finishing the race is by fixing your eyes on where you want to be, and not where you are. While your car is deep in that turn and starting to slide a little, your hands need to be turning the wheel into that slide but your eyes need to already be on the next turn. I've done it, and it works. Every time. If you let your eyes stay planted on where the car is and not where it needs to go you will end up spinning on probably every time. The same goes in life. If we are constantly looking at only today, and our issues of the moment or our plans for that evening and tomorrow (or even worse at only our past and where we've been) then what chance do we have of getting to the next turn? Of evolving and achieving the goals we have set out for ourselves? I would say very little. It's so easy to get drawn into the moment, with meals to prepare, kids to tend to, jobs to be at, etc but for the most part every human being on Earth deals with those same things to one degree or another yet many find a way to be more successful, happier, more open minded, emotionally stronger and so on. Some of this has to do with genes and upbringing, without question, yet many happy and successful people also came from poor and challenged backgrounds so there's no doubt a lot of is it just about employing the strategy of looking ahead and steering there lives to where they want them to be and not managing where they are.

Rain on a racetrack is an encumbrance, a difficulty, a distraction, but with the right tires, a more careful and softer grip on the wheel and closer attention to timing and pace, a great racer can excel even under those conditions. When the rain falls in our lives, be it illness, job loss, divorce, stress, etc we have the choice to either put on the right tires and keep our eyes focused on the next turn or to keep the status quo and let the slide turn into a spin and eventually hit the wall or stall out. A lot of TAORITR is about personal responsibility and choice, and how we are in control of our own destiny even when the universe throws things at us that seem insurmountable. In the book Denny talks about it being his fault if another driver clips him because he allowed himself to be there in the first place. How many times in life do we blame others for our mistakes or problems when in many of these situations we enabled it to happen in the first place? If we have our hands on the wheel, sharply focused and looking forward to the next turn then how would we allow anyone to be a diversion to our goal?

I think every day each one of us get rained on, literally and figuratively, and yet we all deal with the effects of it very differently. Rain can evoke depression and sadness in some while it has a cleansing effect on others. Regardless, it usually presents a set of challenges that we have to find our way through. Knowing there will be always be rainy days, and that short of parking our "cars" and living in a cave somewhere, we need to find a way to keep the wheels on the ground and to keep moving forward. We don't have to always win the race, and certainly it's much harder to do so when the rain is falling, but we at least have to finish. 

The car goes where your eyes go. Keep focused on the next turn, always be looking forward and find that balance that provides you the steady hand and smooth grip to race in any condition your life finds itself in.


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