Sometimes Expert Instructions Are BS

Jenna Hellberg
3 min readAug 25, 2021

A lesson learned on the steep hills of San Francisco.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

In the winter of 2019, I photographed a family’s day in San Francisco. We started at their home, hung out at a park, and then we planned to meet up at their favorite restaurant for lunch, a 10-minute drive from their house.

If you’re familiar with San Francisco, you might know that some hills are quite steep. I had parked my firetruck-red, manual shift GTI at a 90-degree angle halfway up a particularly tilted street.

As I hopped in the car and put the restaurant as my destination in Google Maps, the instructions told me to drive up the hill for the fastest route to the restaurant.

I didn’t think much of it — I backed up from the spot, turned the rear downhill, gave it some gas. And felt a panicked lurch in my stomach.

A cold engine + manual gear shift + steep hill = DISASTER

After stalling a couple (…) of times, generating all the smoke, and increasing panic, sweat, and tears, I eventually got up the hill.

The second I was over the hill and out of the immediate situation — when the smoke was still an overwhelming presence in the car — it hit me.

I could’ve saved myself stress, headache, and time by going downhill and building some momentum before heading up the hill on a parallel street.

Instead, I almost ruined the car.

But that was really hard to think of when I was already in the deep weeds, and the “right” instructions told me to go that way. (That’s just how our brains work when we feel stressed — our focus becomes really narrow and our creative problem-solving suffers.)

Now, for someone else, that route might not be a big deal at all — like for someone who has an automatic gearbox, an already warm engine, four-wheel drive, or familiarity with that hill.

But it wasn’t the best option for me (and my poor car) at this moment.

So the next time you try to force the way that “experts” are saying is the right way to do something, remember that:

Sometimes the easier way is the right way.

Sometimes the long way is the right way.

Sometimes turning around halfway there is the right way.

Sometimes just stepping back for a little bit is the right way.

The way you can get [that thing] done is the right way.

How you run your business, how you practice self-care, how you plan your time, how you [do something else everyone else has an opinion on] — you get to find and trust your own way.

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Jenna Hellberg

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