Spinning your wheels

Have you ever used the phrase “spinning your wheels” to describe a situation where there’s a lot of activity going on, but you’re not getting the results you want?  For you warm weather types, I don’t believe you can fully appreciate the phrase until your car has been stuck in a deep snowdrift in the middle of a blinding snowstorm at 20 below zero (so cold you can blow your nose and see icicles in your Kleenex.)

I used to drive a stretch of highway 65 between West Lafayette and Indianapolis, Indiana in the middle of winter.  One night snow was drifting over the highway with a thin sheet of ice underneath.  I was doing 55 miles per hour, when the gusting wind started to push my car into a slide.  I frantically tried to steer out of it, but somehow did a complete 360 and ended up facing forward with the right side of my car stuck in a snowdrift on the right side ditch. 

After my heart stopped pounding from the adrenaline surge, I hit the gas and heard the dreaded high pitched whining of a wheel spinning in place.  Let me explain again to you warm weather folks.  This was back in the day of rear wheel drive cars.  My ’71 Monte Carlo had racing slick tires that were really cool in the summer, really useless in the winter.  When your tire spins in a snow rut, it polishes it into a perfect little slushy ice cradle that gets deeper with every rotation.

There are a few tricks to freeing yourself, like the rocking technique.  You hit the gas enough to get your car moving up out of the rut.  Then let off the gas and let it slide backward.  As gravity pulls it forward, hit the gas to go a little farther up the front side. Repeat this procedure until your car gets enough momentum to get up over the edge and find traction.

I tried rocking for 15 minutes with no results. The rut just got deeper and deeper and I was dangerously low on gas. Several large trucks and cars with tire chains rumbled by me, but I was determined to do this myself. 

I moved on to plan B – wedge something under the tire.  I found an old Budweiser box half-buried in the snow, and I wedged it in there along with a few twigs.  Of course, other drivers would carry a bag of rock salt or kitty litter in their trunk just for occasions like this, but not me.  I was not that smart.  I hit the gas again and the tire just chewed up the cardboard and spit it out the back. 

After 30 minutes of trying to escape on my own, I got back in the driver’s seat, lowered my head onto the steering wheel and said out loud “God help me… I am stuck.”

That’s when I heard the knock on the window.  I looked up to see a pair of friendly eyes tucked behind a red wool scarf and a John Deere hat. I rolled down the window a few inches.  He said “Need a push?”

As much as I hated to admit it, I said “Yes, I could use a push.”

He said “You rock it and I’ll push from the back.” And he walked around to my rear bumper.

I hit the gas and let off 3 times in a row.  As I reached the top of the rut on the 4th time, the Good Samaritan gave a big shove at just the right time, got me up over the top and moving forward again!  I didn’t want to risk stopping and getting stuck, so I drove off down the frozen highway, managing a quick wave out the window.  I never knew his name and never got to thank him, so I’d like to say thank you to him right now (wherever he is) for his good deed that evening. 

But this story is not about good-deed doers.  It was about my unwillingness to ask for help.  I struggled for 30 minutes when I could have simply flagged someone down and gotten the little push I needed.

Ladies, I know what you’re thinking… this is part of the male DNA.  We don’t ask for directions. We don’t read instructions. And we certainly don’t ask for help until we’ve tried to fix it ourselves. 

But I know that many of you men AND women have been there before… struggling to get traction on a project at work, struggling to improve a relationship, struggling to get started on your real dream.  And you keep trying the same things over and over, spinning your wheels, digging a deeper rut, and even running out of gas.

My challenge to you – the next time you’re stuck in a storm in your life, I want you to skip past all the wheel spinning and ask for help.  You may have to set aside your pride or give up a little control, but the minute you accept that you can’t do it all alone… help will appear and knock on your window.

It’s not that you aren’t capable or powerful or willing.  It’s just that sometimes, everyone can use a little push, at just the right time.

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6 Comments on “Spinning your wheels”


  1. Another Great Story!
    Once again, I feel fortunate to have heard you share this Live. Take Care!

    • Julie DuVal Says:

      Snow in Indiana…what fond memories! Thanks for the story and analogy – it was great and oh so true!

  2. Patricia Cox Says:

    I agree that guys need to ask for help more often. Sometimes it is important to tell them specifically where you could use the help.
    Also be sure to tell the pushers in the back of the car what you have put under the tire! Kitty litter can hurt your face and eyes as it is kicked out from the wheel.

    Liked your analogy! But please no more stories about how you almost got killed. You are giving your mother grey hairs thinking about it. Love, Mom

  3. Nora Says:

    Thanks for the push David!

    One of my New Year’s resolutions to ask for help more often. I usually wait until I’m at the point of total frustration and embarrassment before even think about asking. And I know that I love lending a hand, so I shouldn’t worry about taking one.

    Last year I moved a giant bookcase cabinet thingie in to my bedroom from the front porch. It literally took a week between tipping it on its side without crashing through the floor using a series of chairs and blankets to standing it upright in my bedroom using the bed as a balance. I hated it in there but felt like I was stuck.

    I asked a friend to help me last week and it five minutes the bookcase was in the living room, he’d repaired the piece I’d knocked off the first move and we both felt good.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Thanks Nora. The other thing I have found is that some people love to help others, so you are giving them more joy by asking them to help you, right?


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