Marc Sparks On Life: Learn How to Drive a Stick Shift

May 14

Marc Sparks On Life:  Learn How to Drive a Stick Shift

Marc Sparks is an entrepreneur who has been involved in more than sixty start-ups since the Seventies. He is also the founder, owner, and CEO of Timber Creek Capital, a private equity firm.

Society’s never-ending pursuit of automation never ceases to amaze me. Now don’t get me wrong; as a serial entrepreneur, I’m all for streamlining business processes and increasing efficiencies whenever and wherever possible. Frankly, however, this insatiable quest to “make life easier” is creating a world of complacency … and in my observation, complacency can be catastrophic.

Don’t think so? Take note sometime of the number of people who can’t do simple arithmetic without a calculator. Or count the number of meals you actually cook, as opposed to zapping some prepackaged frozen meal that’s full of preservatives and God knows what else in the microwave for a few minutes.

What’s truly sad, though, is that this “do it for me/Easy Button” paradigm is also robbing people of some life lessons and simple pleasures, such as driving a vehicle with a stick shift.

Marc Sparks: Driving a Stick Shift Requires Discipline
Learning a new skill is empowering, and learning to drive a vehicle with a standard transmission is about as empowering as it gets. Driving a stick shift takes great hand-eye-foot coordination. It takes DISCIPLINE. Before automatic transmissions, our first driving lessons often took place in country pastures, back roads or remote areas of parking lots. It went something like this: start… shift gears… kill the engine… shift gears… strip gears… kill the engine. We did not advance to driving in traffic until we could smoothly and effortlessly operate the vehicle without killing the engine. And God forbid you stop on a hill! That took total attention. Complete discipline. I’ll tell you this much: texting-and-driving would be far less of a problem today if more people drove a stick. It’s impossible to text with one hand on the wheel and one hand on the shifter, a foot on the clutch and the other on the gas.

I was baptized by fire. About 37 years ago, I was working in a furniture warehouse, but I longed to be out on the delivery trucks. That would beat the hell out of sweeping acres of warehouse and emptying train cars of mattresses and sofas each day. My big chance finally arrived when Sol Freed came storming in the warehouse. He was madder than a hornet and fired two drivers for drinking beer at lunch. Then he yelled, “SPARKS, YOU’RE UP!” and tossed me the keys to a 20-foot furniture truck and gave me a $1.50 an hour raise.

BAM! My big break—only I did NOT know how to drive a stick shift! Thankfully, I shared my challenge later with another guy in the warehouse, and he gave me a 6-hour lesson after work that day! Sol was never the wiser!

Marc Sparks: If You Can Drive a Stick, You Can Handle Most Any Challenge
Learning how to drive a stick means more freedom because it opens doors to opportunity. I’ve had the great fortune of travelling all over the world, and most cars abroad are not equipped with automatic transmissions. Thank goodness I know how to drive a stick shift; that skill has enabled me to reach beyond the traditional tours and “get off the beaten path” to experience some of the most wondrous sites on Earth.

However, you don’t have to be a world traveler to reap the benefits of driving a stick. I’ve found that the confidence that comes with driving a stick carries over into everyday life and the business world. I instinctively know when it’s time to internally shift gears—whether it’s time to take my game to the next level or downshift to maintain control during stressful times. You can do the same. In fact, if you can drive a stick, you can handle most any challenge.

Marc Sparks: Learn to Drive a Stick… Now
Many of you don’t know the joy and freedom that comes with learning how to drive a stick. It’s not too late, but don’t put it off. The nation’s automakers are adjusting their ways to meet the demands of today’s society. Twenty years ago, a quarter of all cars sold in the United States had manual transmissions. By 2011, that figured had dropped to 3 percent, according to an article in the Aug. 3, 2012 edition of U.S. News & World Report. That trend is expected to continue, and many analysts predict that the standard transmission will be obsolete in the next 15 to 20 years.

That’s why I urge you to learn how to drive a stick… and do it now.

You now know how I feel about driving a stick. It’s your turn. Tell me… why do you drive a stick shift?

Read more Marc Sparks’ insights at, his views on business and entrepreneurship at, and excerpts from his upcoming book, They Can’t Eat You, at

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