Have you ever been go-karting?
Not kiddie go-karting. I mean proper go-karting with a real track, and fast karts, and onesies that smell like manliness and oil, and helmets that make your head loll they’re so heavy?
Yes, I’m a sometime speed demon, and in case you’re wondering, yes, I do rock the child-sized onesies. The combination of child-size onesie and adult helmet makes me look like a bobblehead of The Stig.
It’s a good look.
I’ve always had a great time on the track. I’m a rubbish driver – running alternately on equal parts of adrenaline and sheer terror – but I have so much fun! I put my foot to the floor with irresponsible delight and go hot all over with excitement, and then I hit the brakes hard when the fear that I’m about to flip over turns my entire body to ice. I accelerate so fast my head flies back, and I can’t see where I’m going because the gravitational force pins the top of my helmet to my headrest… and then I brake so abruptly that I slam forward against my restraints and knock the breath out of myself.
Start and stop.
Back and forth.
“WHEEEEEEEE!” and “AAAAAAAAH!!!!”
Lately I’ve been thinking that in some ways my entire existence is like that. I live my life the way I drive my go-karts; racing ahead with life and plans and ideas, and then coming to an abrupt and sometimes painful halt when fear overwhelms me.
I’ve been doing this for a long time. Probably since childhood, although it’s definitely felt more pronounced since becoming an adult. In university, I first decided to go for a broad, general Arts degree (philosophy and English lit.), only to stop dead in my tracks a few months later when I started to feel afraid that it would be of no use to me. So I decided I wanted to do animation – a huge passion of mine – but was too afraid of trying and failing, so settled on graphic design because it sounded like a safer, more practical choice. Then I panicked at the idea of not being good enough for the safer and more practical choice, and in an abrupt and inadvisable 180°, then decided to go for something intentionally difficult (Japanese Language). I quickly pivoted again when I felt myself struggling with a subject I had chosen on a whim, that I never cared for and had no real interest in.
Which, you know… BAD. *smacks hand*
Eventually I realised that I was constantly, desperately looking for escape routes at every turn, trying to avoid the difficult and unpleasant feeling of Not Feeling Good Enough. I realised that I just have this innate knack for self-sabotaging in the worst way. In trying to avoid obstacles in my path, I tend to leave the path entirely and instead end up on the bumpiest off-road tracks that are often far more complicated and impassable than the original obstacle. I just get in my own way. It’s very unhealthy.
So I went to see a counsellor.
She was very kind. She mostly stayed silent and whenever there was a long pause she would say, “…And how do you feel about that?” which always made me want to laugh. I didn’t find her hugely helpful but she was very nice, so I felt bad about ending our sessions. In the end, I waited until there was a natural break for the holidays, told her I’d reschedule in the new year, and then never did.
… Still cautiously avoiding the bumps in the road, obviously.
I went back and tried another counsellor, and he was far more helpful. Instead of “sessions,” our appointments felt like strategy meetings. It felt less feathery-strokery and more proactive. University became less about finding ways to evade my fear, and more about putting my head down and bulldozing through it. There were quite a few obstacles in my way, and they were the kind of obstacles that made people ask if I wanted to pack it in, but I knew that I needed to make it to the finish line. I wasn’t sure I would be able to look at myself in the mirror if I didn’t get out of there with a degree.
So I gritted my teeth and I lowered my head and I stuck it out and I got out of there with the piece of paper clenched tight in my fist. Nobody can take that away from me. My degree now lives in a locked drawer, safely tucked away as a reminder that I am capable.
These days I’m a bit better at catching myself when I feel the fear take over. I recognise it and know that logically, I’m being an idiot. I know not to let it rise over me like a tidal wave, because if I do it has about the same potential to smash my life to smithereens. I still struggle to work through periods of time when I’m Not Feeling Good Enough. I know now to rely on the fact that I have occasional bursts of self-confidence, and that’s really all I need to press my foot down on the accelerator and get going again. Hopefully the gap between bursts will narrow over time until I can hopscotch across my river of insecurities on self-confidence stepping stones. Maybe one day my biggest anxieties will be covered over by a sheet of self-belief that will allow me to skate right over them. I’m working on it.
I have a picture in my head of what I want my life to be, but it looks… fuzzy around the edges. It looks undefined, like I’m looking at it from a distance through a mist. I can see the hazy shape of important parts of it, but the details are missing. I know that in a lot of ways, I’m still afraid. What if – with all my speeding and stalling and stopping and starting – I never get there? What if I flip my go-kart?
For now though, I’ve learned to stay the course and ride the bumps in the road. I’ve learned to enjoy myself in the moment, rather than focus tunnel-vision style on the things that worry me. Not every pothole is a catastrophe. Not every hill is too steep to climb. Putting pedal to the metal can be as exhilarating as it can be terrifying. It doesn’t have to be a smooth, straight stretch of road; the journey doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be good.
Anyway, a bit of uneven ground keeps things interesting.