Business adviceBusiness Skills

Like Riding a Bike

Until last month, I hadn’t driven a car for more than twelve years. The reasons are many and various (though, I should stress, purely to do with not having access to a car) but with the upshot that, when I was finally in a position to buy a car late last month, I was expecting to be back to square one.

In fact, the moment I was sitting behind the wheel and reaching for the gear-stick, it all felt utterly familiar. Yes, I stalled once just after I moved off and crunched the gears a couple of times, but it all seems to have come back.

More crucially, I was expecting to need a lot of practice to recover my judgement of negotiating spaces, braking distances and the like, but these too appear intact. I booked a refresher lesson and did get pulled up on a couple of minor bad habits, but I was told I drove pretty well.

Of course, everyone says it’s like riding a bicycle (which does make me wonder what you get told it’s like if you’re coming back to cycling) but I hadn’t expected it to be quite so simple. That made me think about other skills that stay unused for long periods.

It doesn’t happen to all of us, of course, but it isn’t uncommon to come back to an old, unused skill, whether you’re using it in a job, a business or a hobby. Traditionally, it tends to be women more than men who take long breaks to focus on their children, though the gap may close in the future if more balanced childcare becomes normal. And there’s a range of other reasons why both men and women may have a gap.

It’s always a bit scary when we have to go back to something, unsure whether we’ll still manage. Of course, in business there are often new things to learn. Someone returning to run a business today after a twelve-year gap would certainly need a crash course in innovations like online accounting or the importance of social media.

All the same, those are simply methods, like the electric-powered windows and wing mirrors I’ve had to get used to. Like the driving itself, the basics don’t change much. If you could engage prospective clients, sell your products or services and keep the books balanced twelve years ago, there’s no reason why you can’t still do it today. You only need to learn a few details.

If it’s a hobby you’re coming back to (a sport you haven’t played for years, say) there aren’t many bad consequences of messing up, apart from maybe your dignity. A business has more potential for disaster if it fails, but the most likely reason for failing will be your own lack of belief.

If you could do it years ago, you can do it now, as long as you educate yourself about what’s changed. It’s like riding a bike. Or driving a car. Just get behind the wheel, put your new business in gear, and pull off onto the road to success.

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