Have you ever started a project that was beyond the scope of your expertise? A new venture that totally surpassed what you were capable of doing? An endeavor that knocked all your previous endeavors out of the ring and off the planet?
If so, I have a few things I’d like to say to you.
Number One: What the heck were you thinking?
Number Two: Congratulations! The world needs more people like you.
Number Three: Listen up. I have a story I’d like to share with you.
After I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. None.
My major in college was English. Have you heard the joke about English majors?
The Philosophy major asks: “What is the deeper meaning of existence?”
The Chemistry major asks: “What is the molecular structure behind each aspect of creation?”
The Astronomy major asks: “How fast is the Universe expanding and when will it reverse its course?”
The English major asks. . . . .
“Would you like fries with that?”
That’s what I’m saying. I really had no idea.
I was living in Massachusetts at the time, and a friend of mine got a job on a local farm. I thought, that sounds cool. So I got a job there too.
The manager of the farm was a young guy named Thomas. Thomas was a classic, stoic New Englander. He spoke about five words a day, and only in response to direct questions. He was seriously intimidating.
Just before I arrived, Thomas talked the owner of the farm, an elderly gentleman named Hollis Lovell, into buying a fancy new John Deere tractor and a bunch of new equipment. That was all well and good, but a few months after the new equipment had been purchased, Thomas took off to start his own farm.
Leaving the farm without a manager.
Can you sense what’s coming next? I’ll bet you can!
Old Hollis decided that I should run the farm. The logic behind this decision was that we’d gone to the same college. In his mind, this was enough.
Apparently it didn’t matter that my major only qualified me to serve fries. I was destined to run a farm!
So I said: What the heck? I’ll give it a try!
(Isn’t it amazing what ignorance can do?)
Before Thomas left, he trained me to run the tractor and use the equipment, but he didn’t tell me much. When your standard repertoire is five words a day, it’s tough to be a teacher.
Thomas’s preference for silence, however, was the least of my problems.
My biggest challenge was the tractor itself. You see, at this point in my life I did not possess a driver’s license. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I was not a driver.
To put this in perspective, my high-school Driver’s Ed instructor was crazy. It was rumored she had several DUIs, and on the weekends she drove cars at the local demolition derby.
The kids in my Driver’s Ed car included a boy who grew up in the country and had been driving since he was 5 and a really tough girl who had gotten most of her driving experience by stealing cars.
I was seriously intimidated by these people.
It didn’t help that I was barely in my body at that point in my life. Bottom line, I couldn’t drive. Or, I could drive, but very badly.
When it was my turn behind the wheel, the instructor would take us out on the country roads so I didn’t have to stop or turn. I had no skills.
The idea of driving a tractor, then, was more than a little intimidating. Like, seriously scary.
But I was willing to try. How hard could it be?
I still remember my first day on the job. It was a Friday, and the first few hours went great.
At least I had a few good hours, right?
Then came the fun part. I had a field to till and I needed to hitch the rototiller onto the tractor.
Now, this was not just any rototiller. Oh no. This rototiller was huge and heavy and not to be messed with.
In order to hitch the rototiller onto the tractor, I had to back up the tractor into the tiller. The tiller was monster-sized. It wasn’t moving. In order for the tractor and tiller to become one, I needed to drive the tractor into the exact right spot to get it to hitch to the tiller.
Except that it was.
I tried once. I tried twice. I tried again and again and again. There was no way the tractor and tiller were going to be a unit. They had absolutely no interest in being one, and there was no way they were going to let me facilitate such a union.
Not only that, there was nobody there to help me. Thomas was gone. Old Hollis could barely drive, let alone facilitate a precision backing maneuver. It was up to me. And I couldn’t do it.
Finally, I gave up. I went home – and by this I mean, I rode my bike home – and I thought:
This is ridiculous. I can’t run a farm. What was I thinking? I’m a fry-server, not a farmer. This is a total disaster and I need to quit right now.
But I didn’t. For one thing, it was the weekend and I didn’t have Old Hollis’s number.
And for another thing, it wasn’t my idea to be at the farm. It was Spirit’s.
A few years before that moment, I’d woken up to the fact that Spirit was in charge of my life. In that awakening, I had vowed to follow this Power and Presence for the rest of my life. In whatever It guided me to do.
That included working on the farm. I wasn’t even sure why I needed to be there, though I knew I loved being outdoors all the time, and getting my clothes dirty, and yakking with my coworkers while we picked beans and peas and tomatoes.
So I needed to stay. Even though hitching the tiller onto the tractor was impossible.
When Monday came, I went back to work. And I’ll never forget what happened. I got back on that tractor, and I tried again. And you know what?
I hitched that tractor onto that tiller like I’d been doing it all my life. Like it was no problem at all. And in that moment, I learned something I’ve never forgotten.
Sometimes you just have to step away. You have to take a breath and give up the fight. You have to turn it over and remember Who’s really in charge.
It’s a breath and a pause that allows you to return renewed. A renewal in which the impossible becomes possible.
So now, when something seems hopeless, I remember my mantra. Step away from the tractor.
Say it with me, will you? Step away from the tractor.
My work here is done.
What are your experiences with stepping back? How has giving up allowed you to move forward?