I’m at an intersection. The cars behind me are honking. My girlfriend is yelling at me. The light is green. All I have to do is turn left, but I am frozen.
The light turns red, and my girlfriend says, “You have to turn next time.” I reply: “I don’t think I can.”
What is stopping me? I am learning how to drive stick. I’m in my early twenties, and about to purchase my first car. Standard shift cars are a lot cheaper than automatic, and I don’t have a lot of money. My girlfriend offered to let me practice with her Isuzu Rodeo, an SUV. And the whole process totally stresses me out.
I sit waiting for the light to turn green, my heart pounding and sweat misting my forehead. The same scenario plays out in my mind: I start to turn left, I stall the car, and another car hits us on her side. My powerful imagination makes thoughts like these into visions, so vivid that they are almost real.
An action that would be so easy for me in an automatic car seems impossible. The light turns green. I have to go. I reach down and find a desperate courage. I finally make the turn, yet there is no feeling of triumph. I feel exhausted and embarrassed. And I have no confidence about driving standard.
Eventually, I would learn. I got my car, a white Neon. We nicknamed it “Bucky” because of how often I got close to stalling, making the car lurch. Over time, I learned the art of pushing down the clutch, hitting the gas and shifting all in one coordinated, artful action.
More importantly, I gleaned a lesson from those terrible moments at the intersection. Learning new things is hard, and my tendency to panic in those situations makes it so much harder. I promised myself that next time I was trying something new, I would work to keep myself calm.
I wouldn’t have long to wait. Soon after this, I would learn how to ski.