If you have never run out of gas here’s why you should.

Have you ever run out of gas? I have. I did it on purpose.

I was in my early 20s and home from college for the summer in Vermont. It seemed like knowing how far your car could go on empty was a valuable life lesson. Did E Really Mean E? Or was the needle on the fuel gauge of my 1982 Ford Escort just the little needle who cried E? Inquiring minds want to know.

On a warm June morning, I planned my knowledge-seeking pilgrimage. I called a friend and told him that I expected to run out of gas somewhere along my route that morning. I gave him a specific time to come look for me. And to bring some fuel.

Then I left my parents’ house and drove down a quiet country road in Vermont. And if you have ever been to Vermont you know that a quiet country road in Vermont is a redundant statement. Or maybe a redundant redundant statement.

About 5-miles into my trip, I ran out of gas and rolled to a stop on the side of the road. Minutes later my friend arrived with some spare gas. I gave the car 1 gallon of petro from the classically red gas can. I fired the car back up, and drove it to the nearest gas station a mile or so down the road and filled the tank with 12 gallons of gas.

How Low Can You Go?

As I climbed back into my car, not only was my tank full of gas, my brain was full of new knowledge. I now knew how far my car could go on empty. I knew what my car did after it drank its last drops. I knew that a good backup plan minimized the impact of running out of gas. And I knew how far I could safely push things in the future. Or as Salt N’ Peppa said, I now knew I could push it real good.

I have applied this same limit-seeking approach to other areas of my life. Because I want to find my real limits. Not for limit’s sake. But so that I know what the possibilities are. I want to know how far I can really push myself before I can’t go any farther. Most people never do this. But we all should.

Key Takeaway

Explore your outer bounds. You should know where the real limitations are. Know when your car will really run out of gas. But also know your real limits are for strength, work, endurance, and pain. Find the edge. It is the only way to know how much you are truly capable of. It’s more than you think.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message please share it with them.

+ For more of the best life lessons I’ve learned, check out my new book What Does Your Fortune Cookie Say? from Ripples Media.

Why I ask job candidates if they can Double Dutch.

Starting something new is hard. I’m not just talking about things like going to prison. Which I imagine is really hard at first. And in the middle. And towards the end.  It’s hard to be a rookie at anything. Some people enjoy the luxury of not caring whether or not they look dumb doing something new. I don’t have that luxury. I care.

But I also really enjoy taking on new challenges. And I have developed my own technique for starting new activities that you may find usefeul. I refer to it as my Double Dutch technique.  You remember Double Dutch. It’s the playground activity where you try to jump two ropes, swinging simultaneously, in opposite directions. Because jumping one swinging rope just isn’t hard enough.  Double Dutch can be a ridiculously intimidating activity. Those ropes are relentlessly nipping at your heels. And once they bite your foot the game immediately halts to bring everyone’s attention to your failure.

But I like Double Dutch. It’s an activity for people who like to try hard things. It’s much more challengeing than single Dutch, or non-Dutch rope jumping. And it’s infinitely harder than just jumping up and down with no rope (which always earns me funny looks).

I like to try hard things.  It makes me feel stronger, more confident and more capable. It makes me feel like I am growing. And I like to work with others who enjoy pushing themselves.

Today, I utilize my Double Dutch technique all the time as I grow my advertising agency, The Weaponry. Because not only am I taking on new challenges personally, I want our entire team to continuously expand our capabilities and find new and better ways to help our clients.

Here’s how my Double Dutch technique works.

I get close to the activity. To get a feel for Double Dutch you have to step into that space right next to the ropes. And when I start something new I try to first get really close to the action without fully engaging.  There is something about being close to the activity that helps you absorb how it works quicker. If you want to climb Mt. Everest go to basecamp first to get aclimated.

I watch others. Aside from the very first Double Dutchers on Earth, whom I assume were twins from Amsterdam, I bet no one has ever tried jumping the two-ropes-of-doom without first watching someone else do it. That’s why I always watch other people performing the task I want to learn. I study the moves, the attitude and the technique. Much like an actor studies others when preparing to play a role.

I find the rhythm  Double Dutch has a unique rhythm all its own. You have to get in sync with it to succeed. Most human interactions are like this. The interactions at a networking event, a yoga class, and in business meetings follow a certain flow and cadence. Learn them so you can anticipate the order and timing of the activity.

I jump in. At some point if you want to Double Dutch you have to jump in.  Once I have armed myself reasonably well by getting close to an activity, watching it, and finding the rhythm, I channel my inner Davd Lee Roth and I jump (might as well, right DLR?). Sometimes it goes well from the start. Other times I need a mulligan.

I recalibrate  In Double Dutch the rope tells you what you did wrong. And the problem is always that you touched the rope. The question is where. Use that feedback to do better on the next try. If you jumped too soon, wait another beat. If you jumped too late, go a bit sooner.  This is little data at its best. Create a new plan based on the learnings.

I jump in again. And again.  To jump ropes you have to keep trying. This is how life works. Get in and jump, over and over until you get it right. Whether you want to build a great brand, learn how to knit, or run QuickBooks, there is ultimately no substitute for doing. Be a do-er.

As you focus on growth and acquiring new skills consider the Double Dutch approach. Give yourself a chance to get close, observe, absorb, try, learn and try again. Soon you will find yourself in rhythm, jumping, and singing, ‘Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries.’ Let’s talk about how well you’re doing when I see you at recess. Until then, here’s a little inspiration.