By Dan Burkitt
First Gear Tendencies
July 2019 feels like it is a long way away, but I am already thinking about it. I don’t want the course to be over, I want it to start. But I am thinking about it ending to try and remind myself that finishing something is often the hardest part.
In Aravind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger, the protagonist, Balram Halwai, describes himself as ‘a first gear man’, meaning someone who can start projects but not follow them through. He never progresses beyond the first gear. Although Balram is generally quite an unpleasant person – a murderer and a ruthless, corrupt businessman – I did empathise with him on this point. To some extent, I consider myself a ‘first gear man’.
I was incredibly excited to start piano lessons when I was younger, but my interest quickly dwindled and it took me years to even pass the first grade. I stopped after that. I have half-written dozens of short stories and articles and poems. Maybe one day I will half-write a novel or a screenplay. I start keeping a journal almost every year, there are never any entries past March at best. I have half-written cover letters and applications for dozens of jobs. I started learning Spanish and never progressed beyond basic pleasantries, no matter how many notifications Duolingo tried to send me.
It is easy to start things but it is much more difficult to finish them.
I had a recent triumph in my constant battle to overcome my first-gear tendencies. I committed to doing a 10km charity run, having never done any kind of distance running before, and actually followed through. I signed up to do the run when I was a few pints deep, and then googled ‘how quickly can you train for a 10k’. Answer: two months, if you can already run 3 km. I wasn’t sure I could already run that far but measured it out on a map, with the aim of running that route the next day.
I barely managed it. I was a wheezing, red-faced mess by the time I stumbled over my imaginary finish line. From then on I forced myself to run regularly, going slightly further each time. When the race day came I actually did it. I ran 10km through the streets of Bristol and crossed the line.
I think I can take two things from this episode:
- The importance of deadlines – without the prospect of a race which I had paid money to enter, was being sponsored to run, and really wanted to complete, I would not have done it.
- The importance of consistently doing something, even if you’re doing it badly – I am not good at running. But I did it badly regularly and improved. That was satisfying enough.
First-gear tendencies in large part stem from the desire for instant success and instant gratification, but you have to struggle and be mediocre for quite a long time before you can do anything well. In order to overcome the tendencies I know I need to accept being mediocre more readily.
I am currently bad at being mediocre and I want to become good at being mediocre – and there will be a long time of being mediocre at being mediocre in the middle.
I will be coming in to SCA and looking forward to the final day there because – for me and all my fellow first gear people – the ending is more significant and much more difficult than the beginning.