I pretty much stopped driving at age 18. I didn't have a car in college. At home my world existed within a small circumference--I could walk to the coffee shop, the grocery store, the sports bar where I worked (I relied heavily on friends, thanks Daria Reaven and Jo French). The park across the street was my second home, its crevices and smells as familiar to me as the ridges of my knuckles. When my ex-boyfriend and I moved in together, he had a car and liked to drive, or it could be said, had an extreme opinion about how driving should be done. So, as a result of never operating a vehicle I learned a) how to navigate bus systems b) commute by bike and c) walk 3 miles to get somewhere without frustration and only excitement about the new possible routes. The adverse affects of spending a lot time with someone who was incredibly critical about all things but intensely so about driving was that I began to feel self-conscious about driving. What if I wasn't good enough? (That, of course, is my fault--insert Eleanor Roosevelt quote here). That question became a theme in my life for 4 years. What if I'm not good enough? What if I give it my all and still come up empty-handed?
Growing up, I would have said I was a confident person. But something changed. At age 23, I was working at an advertising agency and I felt like I was doing a good job. At then end of my time there, a woman I respected there gave me the feedback that I needed to work on being more confident. Her suggestion shocked me--I'd never been accused of lacking confidence before. She went on to say that I shouldn't keep my thoughts to myself until directly asked--that I should believe in myself more. When I worked at a hotel in Portland my boss said the same thing. He said he'd hired me because of my confidence but when I started to work I'd immediately deferred to my coworker on everything. I struggled with challenging his work style or suggesting changes. Then at Airbnb, my first round of feedback was the same. Somehow, while I felt like a confident, capable person, I wasn't reflecting that publicly.
So here I was in New Zealand, faced with buying a car in another country and driving on the wrong side of the road and I was scared shitless. How do you become who you already thought yourself to be?
I dimmed the critical voice I'd heard so often for the past few years and thought, you can do this. I bartered for my car! With a man! 300 nz less! And I drive all the time now, on gravel roads to remote sites on Poronui where 4 wheel drive is necessary, in town, through roundabouts.
What the fuck changed? (This is cheesy, brace yourself) I think for me it came down to actually believing in myself The person I am right now. Not--once I get into grad school, get a promotion, once I get in better shape, once I master my craft--then I'll be the person I should be. No--just who I am right now. And also, I only surround myself with people who like me for me, not who they want me to be. That type of support is palpable.
There are still moments where I wonder if I made the right decision. Is the world moving on without me? Will I be broke for my entire life? Do people judge me for being a 26-year-old waitress with gnarled and cracked hands from soapy water? I'm not saying I've magically come to the fountain of truth and grown enlightened--I've been accused of being pedantic but I'm not that presumptuous .
I'd always thought my life path would be simple and that I'd be surefooted and strong. But now I realize the cliched metaphor of a fork in the road is dazzlingly insufficient. Life is an iceberg that every hour, ever second, melts into millions of rivulets and tributaries that can carry you on currents across oceans and seas. I worry sometimes that I've misinterpreted the portents and prophecies of my own life. That I've mistranslated the cyphers and signals and gone the wrong direction. How do you choose a life? All I know is that I'm driving on the wrong side of the road and I believe it's going to be okay.