Perspectives from the plateau

We so often talk about the hills and valleys, and how we can learn from both. But we don't talk about the plateaus as much. Chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin is quoted as saying,


"Of course there were plateaus, periods when my results leveled off while I internalized the information necessary for my next growth spurt, but I didn't mind."

I've hit a plateau in my driving. It turns out that, at least for me, it's pretty easy to progress quickly from an inexperienced driver to a decent one. Every time I went to the track for about the first year, I made progress in my times, my speed, and my courage. But last weekend I went to Hyperfest at Virginia International Raceway, and my fastest time in my dad's old 2004 BMW 330i matched my fastest time from October. My fastest lap times at Summit Point in my M5 also haven't changed for months.


Of course, my first instinct is to figure out why. What's holding me back? I know the reasons for some of the stagnation. I didn't practice over the winter. I have had to rebuild some confidence in the 330i because something seems to go wrong every time I track it. (This time, I had warped rotors, so we changed them right at the track.) I also think it is partly because I'm driving on my own more often now, without coaches or instructors. Leaning on their expertise, advice, and help moment-by-moment gave me resolve and comfort. When I'm alone in the car, I don't believe in myself as much as I do when there's an expert helping me, pushing me to brake later or get on the gas earlier.


This plateau is a reminder that there is no replacement for time, commitment, and experience. Every driver (and athlete and person, for that matter) goes through periods of stagnation. It can cause us to question ourselves, making us wonder if we have what it takes after all. It can confuse us. It can change our focus and rob us of our determination. It's so much more comfortable to give up. In the plateaus of life, it's easy to take stock of the flat terrain around us and believe that's all there is.


Life is generally lived in the plateaus, in the mundane, in the grind. We must persist in these periods. We have to look at the data - which, in this case, are my driving videos. We have to put in the perhaps not-so-fun work that separates those who give up from those who press on. And perhaps most importantly, we can't allow ourselves to believe that we must not actually be good enough. There is no easy or fail-free path to getting really good at something. I think Michael Jordan said it beautifully when he said, "I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."


Hyperfest might not have been my greatest driving performance in terms of my times, but it was a lot of fun. I got a lot of practice driving with more cars on track than I'm used to having to work around, which is important training for racing eventually. I also focused on practicing heel-toe downshifting, and it's becoming more natural. Focusing on these while at the track meant gaining insight and experience that didn't translate into faster times but was no less important.


The truth is that there is always something to learn: on the hill, in the valley, and most definitely, on the plateau. I was telling my mom yesterday that Hyperfest was awesome because I learned so much and got my hands dirty. I think that sums it up. We have to learn to enjoy the hard and dirty work, or at the very least, like Josh Waitzkin, not mind it. But I confess that because I like to go fast, I don't want to be on this plateau for very long. 😉



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