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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

Three life lessons you can learn from driving in the snow

When a snowstorm – or even a light dusting – hits Portland chaos tends to ensue. The arrival of bad weather also leads to one of my pet peeves happening ad nauseam: People claiming that Oregonians “can’t drive in the snow” as if there is some type of regressive personality trait holding us back. I think the truth is actually dependent on three factors that are crucial to how you should approach driving in the snow, building a career or just going through life in general:

  1. Your preparation

  2. The preparation of those whom you depend on

  3. Experience and confidence

Being prepared is step one

Many of you who know me well have seen my car. It’s rear-wheel drive and rides on summer-only performance tires. This is not a good combination for driving in snow and ice. In fact it’s pretty close to impossible to even drive at all in those conditions without endangering myself or others. That’s why in late November every year I change over to winter tires. This isn’t really difficult, but it requires me to set aside time and find storage space in my garage. Yet, the drudgery pays off each year.

When driving back from the airport last Sunday night during an unexpected dusting of snow I didn’t have any worries and made it home without incident. For most drivers who had problems, it wasn’t because they “can’t drive in the snow” it was due to the fact that they weren’t prepared to drive in the snow with the right tires or traction devices. As former UCLA coach John Wooden said:

“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Understanding the preparation level of your partners is step two

Closely related to the point above is how prepared your trusted partners will be in helping you deal with a situation. In Portland, only major roadways receive any type of surface preparation prior to a snowstorm, or clearing afterwards, from the city's road crews. Significant snowstorms just don’t happen often enough to justify major investments in the necessary equipment and expertise. In comparison, when I was in Chicago this past November I remember seeing a tweet from that city’s road department that it was hitting the streets with 200 plows in response to about an inch of snow! In Portland, you are going to be mostly on your own in the same situation so you better be prepared.

As Coach Wooden said:

“It's too late for preparation when opportunity strikes.”

Experience - building toward poise and confidence - is step three

Here is where I will give some minor credence to the Portlanders “can’t drive in the snow” theory. When something only happens once or twice a year or less, you’re unlikely to be great at dealing with it. However, if you prepare well by having the right tools, understanding the conditions and using some common sense, you will likely make it through just fine.

It’s also amazing how fast our mental muscle memory fades. Oregonians get plenty of experience driving in the rain from November through July, but the worst day of traffic accidents and delays each year always seems to be the first late summer/early fall rainstorm. The roads are extra slick from a month or more without rain and people have forgotten about the need to drive slower and leave additional room between cars.

Applying these principles

If you prepare yourself well for the future, understand how others will help you (or not) and adjust for your experience (or lack of it), the odds of success increase dramatically. In short, you will be more confident and perform at a higher level.

These lessons carry over to your professional career as well. Not only do you need to have goals, you must put in the hard work of preparation, clearly understand what support you will get from others and build your confidence through practical experience. Once again, Coach Wooden put it best:

“Poise and confidence are not possible unless you have prepared correctly … poise and confidence are a natural result of proper preparation."

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