Don’t Get Wrapped Around the Axle

By | January 19, 2019

[January 19, 2019]  My dad used to tell me this all the time; it seemed like anyway.  I would get mentally worked up over my school, part-time job, friends, the stupid family dog, etc.  While growing up, he would simply say, don’t get wrapped around the axle.1   I immediately knew what he meant.

When I was a sophomore in High School, I bought my first car.  It was a 1953 Chevrolet two-door sedan.  It had a straight-six cylinder engine and so much room in its large engine compartment you could stand up in it.  The transmission was a standard “three on the tree” so I had to get used to a stick shift.  But it was my first car, and so I loved it anyway.

One day in the Summer of ‘68, while out with my friends, we were traveling off-road (not recommended for sedans).  A lengthy utility wire got caught on and wrapped around the rear axle near the passenger side.  Fortunately, I carried a small toolkit in the trunk and over about an hour was able to free the axle.  My friends helped.

Earlier in the year, I had purchased the brown-over-tan Chevy from a neighbor.  He was an older man who was a vice principal in the Abilene, Texas school system.  It cost me $100.  The paperwork needed to make the transaction possible in Texas was overwhelming for me.  Why I asked, couldn’t I simply give him the money?  The bureaucracy was new to me and not pleasant.

My dad advised me not to get wrapped around the axle doing the paperwork.  I would never have guessed that only a few months later when I took it off-road, I would have the axle-wrapping experience literally.  I liked motorcycles better than cars, but if you wanted to go anywhere more than 50 miles in West Texas, a car was the only pragmatic way to go.

My dad is a great guy and always tried his best to teach me the rules of the adult game.  Despite being a stubborn learner, I occasionally listened to what he had to say.  Stay calm, even when circumstances are out of your control.  Be a rock in the stream for others.  Leaders do this.  They are mentally stable, personally calm, and always ready.  Leaders don’t get wrapped around the axle.


  1. Idiom: to be confused by something, to the point of paralysis.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Don’t Get Wrapped Around the Axle

  1. Nick Lighthouse

    I too had an old car long ago during my teenage years but I’m older than most here. There is much to be learned in owning an old car. More technical care is required because they were not as reliable as today but they were much easier to repair (because they were also less complex). Yet, they were built like a tank and could take a lickin’.

  2. Roger Yellowmule

    More articles like this one are okay with me. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for a particularly entertaining article. I have found that working with kids, but also with any adult, that if there is a story on which your point is made, then there is a much greater likelihood that it will be remembered.

    1. Eric Coda

      I agree Roger. I certainly enjoyed the article today. Reading these stories helps me remember.

      1. Shawn C. Stolarz

        “Storytelling is the essential human activity. The harder the situation, the more essential it is.” by Tim O’Brien. Great quote.

    2. José Luis Rodriguez

      Storytelling is the best communications tool a leader ever had. You can’t be too nervous and tell a compelling storyline. That means beware of being wrapped around the axle.

  3. Janna Faulkner

    The world is complex and leaders must learn to work inside it. That is why we must ‘pick our battles’ and have ‘orderly priorities’. Anything short of this exposes the leader and his/her subordinates to unnecessary risks.

  4. Gil Johnson

    Don’t get excited and devote too much time and effort to a non-productive event or thing. All of us get caught in the emotion of the times; this occurs often in our younger years. With experience and confidence, we can improve by keeping calm and keep our head’s screwed on right. 😊

  5. Greg Heyman

    My baseball coach used to tell us the same thing. Your article brings back some fond memories. Of course, team sports help us become better leaders by providing a safe environment where we can make mistakes and not look so stupid (everyone else is making them too). Coach Thomas C. Silverton, from Colorado Springs, would say, almost every day, “Hey guys, don’t get wrapped around the axle.” I can hear it now like it was yesterday.

  6. Willie Shrumburger

    This is one of those idioms people use and rarely think about its origin or really what it means. Be careful in its use, or for that matter, how we use it. Leaders must remain on guard to how they use language and must take care in being precise. Advising someone to NOT get “wrapped around the axle” can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another. Lesson, don’t be quick to use this phrase.

  7. Darryl Sitterly

    The Urban Dictionary def of “wrapped around the axle”: To be caught up in a situation or with a person to the extent that whatever happens in the situation or to the person also affects you, often disastrously. Think of a scarf getting caught around a spinning shaft. First it gets sucked in, then it spins along with the shaft.

    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Sometimes I like the Urban Dic more than Wikipedia. More emphasis on slang and colloquial meanings. Example, “No wonder his life is such a mess. He gets wrapped around the axle with every chaos-junkie that comes his way.”

  8. Army Captain

    Howdy all! Let’s hope that our political leaders who are holding the country hostage over the appropriate use of tax money, try to work out a deal. When folks drag their heels, they aren’t listening to the taxpayers like us.

  9. Len Jakosky

    Happy weekend to all those that comment and readers of the ‘comment section.’ Sometimes this section is entertaining as well as informative.

  10. Fred Weber

    This is why I always come to your leadership blog everyday. You never know what you’ll see but the entertainment is always there.

  11. Anita

    Great story from your teenage years, General Satterfield. Thanks.

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