When I was 16, I had to apply for a hardship waiver so that I could test for my driver’s license. In the state of Florida, you had to be in school or have graduated in order to get your license as a teen. Otherwise, you had to apply for the waiver and be approved. If you weren’t approved, you had to wait until you were 18. That was, essentially, your punishment for not being in school.
I wasn’t in school. I was busy being a married single mom. And while every fiber of my being did not want to drive, I needed to. So I applied and I was awarded permission. It would be several more months and eventful events before I’d find my way to the DMV, which was fine by me.
Soon after turning 17, the big day arrived, much to my dismay. I stumbled my way through conversation with my instructor as we walked to the car. He admired the car itself, a model I have long since forgotten. It belonged to the lady I was living with, an alcoholic who kindly opened her home to me and my toddler son, who allowed me to use her car (and was sitting with my son in the waiting room). I was so nervous as I settled into the driver’s seat, and the instructor kept trying to talk to me about the car, but I didn’t know cars and didn’t care. I didn’t want to drive but I needed to, so I was doing what I needed to do. My heart wasn’t in it.
I started the car and attempted to back out of the parking spot, and the car hitched and stalled. Awesome. I was torn between hope that I wouldn’t be able to take my test at all, and the desire to blink and have it all behind me.
I restarted the engine and backed out more, and then it stalled again. I could feel my face burning. And the instructor kept talking. This old car wasn’t surprising him. Of course it was stalling. What a beauty, though.
Once I got it fully backed out and ready to go forward, it continued to hitch, sputter, and jerk, but I finally coaxed it on down the road, and other than forgetting to use my turn signal for a 3-point turn, I passed the test.
After getting my picture taken and signing all the legal documents, we returned to the old car and I was nervous about telling the owner about the issues it was having. She climbed into the driver’s seat and as she adjusted everything back to her needs, she said, “Oh good, you remembered to put the emergency brake back on. See, you’re learning!”
I was speechless.
I never engaged the emergency brake because I had never taken it off. I was so scared of what was happening that I missed it. I took my whole test with that emergency brake trying in earnest to do its one job — brake!
Of course, I never told her. I never told anyone until years and years later. And still years later I have realized how much of life I’ve gone through with the emergency brake engaged. Sputtering forward only to stall out, the brakes of fear, of doubt, of the unknown, hitching and stalling.
Several years ago, going through life with the brakes engaged led to a breakdown also known as my breakthrough. Everything came to a dead stop even while it felt like everything was sliding out of control. Nothing was working anymore. Anxiety and PTSD had taken full control, and I needed to take my life back. I’m thankful I had the self-awareness to reach out for help, and oh how that help has propelled me forward.
But here’s the truth: though I put my foot on the gas pedal, I’ve still been hitching, sputtering, and jerking forward because the parking brake is still engaged. I’m making it around the block ever so slowly, but I haven’t just floored it.
My heart hasn’t been in it. My heart still harbors little shady corners where all the fear and doubt lives, trying to put the brakes on everything I do.
A quick jaunt through my journals reveals this to me clearly. I hit the gas and then slam on the brakes, afraid, confused. It’s a process, and I give myself grace, but I also know I’m way past due to just ride, to stop holding back my true greatness, to lean in and be fully me. I acknowledge I’m a powerful woman with tales to tell, worthy of being heard and seen. Every time I hold myself back, I am saying to myself that I am not worth success or happiness, that I am now allowed to not be stressed out by finances and circumstances.
More, I am sending out the message that I am helpless, that I have to accept where I am in life.
I do not want to just get by, to just do what I have to do because I have to, forgoing a meaningful, fulfilling life. That means revving the engine, not pumping the brakes. Leaning in, pressing on, and flinging fear and doubt out the window.
See? I’m learning!