I still remember the moment I watched the woman crack the eggs on the countertop and quickly move them into the hot pan to cook. Swift, efficient and thoughtless. This woman had cracked thousands of eggs for hundreds of guests, and I was just one more in the line. She didn’t respond to my pleasantries, just cooked the eggs, slid them onto a plate and mumbled something about having a good morning before turning her attention to the next guest. She was done with me, but ten years later I’m not done with her. Or more specifically, the way that she cracked those eggs on the countertop. Years of awkwardly tapping eggs on the rim of a bowl or frying pan hoping you wouldn’t make a mess of it had been eliminated in one encounter with a surly omelette chef in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
We all have techniques, life hacks and learned skills that make our day-to-day more efficient, effective and safer. Most of these we pick up as we march through life from a parent, friend or co-worker. Some are aha! moments where someone shows you a keyboard shortcut or a way to crack an egg more efficiently, and some are less aha! and more ohhh, now I get it. Walking on ice is best learned through example instead of trial and error. When you see someone walk on ice you observe the technique and with practice become adept at navigating your way across a pond or down a driveway. That doesn’t always keep you from slipping, but it greatly enhances your odds for success. Learned skills are like spoken word history or fables; lessons passed from person-to-person for centuries.
I learned how to drive a standard transmission car by learning how to drive a Ford tractor and soon after I took that skill to cars. Once someone shows you the basics and you practice it a bit the skill stays with you forever, as I learned in Scotland driving a standard on the opposite side of the car with the stick on my left hand instead of my right. Am I going to win the Grand Prix with this skill? Nope, but I can comfortably get in a car and drive myself anywhere. And I can tie a bowline knot, or spin a log to the right spot to split firewood, or know where to step when I’m descending a steep hiking trail, or to blunt the tip of a nail so I don’t split the wood when I drive it. We all do a million small techniques and skills that we hardly ever think about. Sometimes I catch myself and think about where I learned that life hack in the first place, and the person who taught me the lesson. Ripples across time, connecting me to someone long ago when we were both different people. These ripples I’ll continue to use, and pay forward for others in turn. Another form of time travel for all of us, connecting the past to the future, disguised as a cracked egg.