That Indescribable Feeling
I love TED (Technology, Entertainment, & Design) talks. If you don’t know, TED Talks are a series of events around the world where interesting people give talks about interesting topics. They can be funny, insightful, informative, heartwarming, and poignant. And all of them make you think.
One of my favorites—“Start With Why”—was given in 2009 by Simon Sinek. He explains that it’s not the “what” of a thing that inspires and motivates us, but the “why.” The values behind an idea, a leader, a product, or a company are what ultimately resonate with us.
Let me explain with an example. How do you account for the recent explosion in popularity of Tesla? It’s tempting to start by listing the various specs and features of Tesla cars. They’re styled well, they have a lot of technology, they’re fast, and they have good range for an electric car. But those are the “whats.” Those are surface-level reasons why someone would buy a Tesla. There are other cars that have incredibly stylish designs and the latest car tech. Few cars can match the 0-60 acceleration of a top-of-the-line Model S. Other electrics and hybrids have great range as well. To understand what differentiates Tesla from other manufacturers, you must understand the “whys.”
Tesla exists because Elon Musk believes in pushing the boundaries of what humanity thinks is technically possible. And one of the ways he does this is through Tesla—a company that happens to make cars. If you’re a forward-thinking, must-have-the-latest-tech Silicon Valley type, then the values Tesla represent resonate with you. You buy and drive a Tesla not for the spec sheet, but for the way it makes you feel and the message it sends to the world around you. Here is the innovator. Here is the person on the bleeding edge of technology. All from the car you drive.
You may hate Tesla and Tesla cars. You may think they’re overpriced, overhyped, underwhelming, and poorly-appointed cars. That’s okay. That’s understandable. That’s because they’re not for you. Either your get it or you don’t. Those that do get it reallyget it. Those that don’t really don’t. And frankly, Tesla is more successful because their products are controversial.
This same concept extends to we “car people” as a whole. We’ve all been asked the same kinds of questions by our friends and family who don’t really get it. “Why are you a car person?” “What is it you love about cars?” “Why are you such a fan of this marque or that model car?” Many of us will respond with explanations involving the sound of engines, the smell of gasoline, or the feeling of a perfectly-executed heel-toe downshift. But these are the “whats.” The true answer is something much deeper and much harder to explain.
The true answer is that cars are a means by which we express ourselves to the world. They’re an embodiment of the values and core beliefs we hold near to our hearts. I’m a die-hard BMW fan, and specifically a fan of the M3. I value precision, balance, utility, understated performance, and I value value. The M, I argue, is a near-perfect manifestation of those beliefs. Someone who knows what the M3 is all about is getting a glimpse at what I am all about. The car is an extension of myself.
You might value strength, all-out performance, and being seen everywhere you go. Well can I interest you in a straight-piped Dodge Challenger? Or you might value precision and focus above all else. How about an MX-5 Miata? Or you might value ingenuity, determination, creativity, and tenacity. I’ll usually find you in the shop under your modified, custom, or classic car—hands dirty with grease, oil and sweat, forever wrenching on a work-in-progress that makes it out a couple times a year for a glorious summer cruise through the mountains or along the coast.
The same thing that motivates us to be car people is what motivates fashionistas to make or buy the clothing they wear; what motivates artists to paint and draw and sculpt; what motivates citizens to vote for certain candidates or policies. It’s an expression of those deepest values we hold dear, a story we can tell ourselves and the world. So the next time someone asks you about your obsession don’t be afraid to dig deep. And don’t be afraid to feel good and proud being seen in the car you love. It’s that almost-indescribable feeling that’s deep within all of us. Enjoy it!
Author: Michael Martin