The Value of Reverse

Food For Thought, Learning, Thinking Tools

In the summer of 1984 I got my first new car.

Not just a new-to-me car – a real new car. I was pregnant with my second child, so (of course) this new car was a station wagon. It was wonderful. It had power windows, plenty of room and that amazing new car smell.

It only had one flaw: it didn’t want to go in Reverse.

The first few days were great. Then, with the car less than a week old, I attempted to pull out of a grocery store parking spot and it wouldn’t go into reverse. It spent a few days back at the dealership with the service department and was then returned to me with the assurance that it was all fixed.

A few weeks later, it happened again. Back to the dealership. A month or so after, it happened again. Over and over, the car would just stop going into reverse. Like me, it seemed to think the only gear in life that was important was “Drive”. So, we kept bringing it back to the dealership and they kept trying to fix it.

Eventually, the most comically predictable thing happened. I started having contractions that were close enough together to head to the hospital. My husband was at work almost an hour away and unreachable by phone. I grabbed my hospital bag and got in the car to drive myself to the hospital.

No reverse.

I couldn’t get my car out of the garage. I tried and tried. I tried all the little tricks we had learned over the months that would sometimes coax it into slipping into gear. Nothing worked.

I went inside and began calling everyone on my list – my mom, a girlfriend, my aunt. In those pre-cell phone days, you never knew if the person you were calling was going to be near their phone. On that particular day, I struck out.

I went back to the car and tried again and again. No reverse.

As I got desperate, I called the dealership and asked the guy who had sold us the car to send someone with another car. Instead, he sent a tow truck. I’ll never forget the look on the face of the tow truck driver when I answered the door – nine months pregnant and my hospital bag in hand. Poor guy. He was saved by the arrival of my mom, who had gotten my message.

I did make it safely to the hospital and though he took his time, we did eventually welcome a healthy little boy. We also got the car truly repaired. In fact, our situation was a part of getting the Michigan “Lemon Law” passed.

Our car trouble could have ended up as a small detail in the story of my son’s birth. It’s stuck with me though, and pops up every now and then in my life as one of those lessons that you need reminding of.

Sometimes going backward is as important as going forward.

We all love moving things forward. We love getting to where we want to go. We don’t love the idea of going backward, and at times go to great lengths to avoid it. But often, going in reverse is a critical part of getting to where we want to go.

– It might mean making some progress on a project, and then stopping and going back to the beginning before starting in a new direction.

– It might mean questioning the things that you have assumed are true and going back to look at them again.

– It might mean tracking back to something that was missed or left behind and cleaning things up.

– It might mean changing your mind about a decision that you thought you were clear about.

On that scary day when I was trying to get to the hospital, I only needed to go in reverse a few dozen yards. It wasn’t much, but it might as well have been miles. I wasn’t going to go anywhere unless I could go backward as well as forward.

Over and over in my life, when things get tough or feel stuck, I find myself thinking of that little Chevy Cavalier and the lesson it taught me about the value of Reverse. It’s easy to think that going in reverse is the “wrong direction”, that it signifies a waste of time or effort, or that it indicates weakness or indecision. It turns out, though, that we do indeed need all the gears, not just our favorite.

When has going backward helped you set a new direction for going forward?

Do you resist going backward? How might it benefit you to embrace it?

Just a little food for thought.