I needed to get my life together so I threw it into reverse. No, this isn’t some labored metaphor. I actually put my life into reverse—or, at least, my car. I know what you’re thinking. No, I didn’t back over one of my exes or anything of the sort. Not that the thought hasn’t occasionally crossed my mind for entertainment’s sake. But no.
What I did was something that will sound so simple, so inane, that you may easily wonder why I felt the need to write about it at all: I simply began reversing my car into my driveway to park. This sounds basic, I know, but I have avoided reversing the way many of us avoid parallel parking. I’m driving the largest vehicle I’ve ever owned, and I just don’t have a lot of confidence when it comes to reversing. If I’m honest, I didn’t like backing up to park even when I drove a tiny compact car. But to do it in a big, hulking SUV? No, thanks.
But I’ve spent the last few years going through a lot of changes. Some of the changes are physical and superficial—getting in better shape, finally getting braces to straighten my teeth, and getting a haircut. Other changes run deeper. A divorce, single parenting, dating in my 30s, and dealing with work challenges including a career change, a layoff, and the start of my writing career. I’ve fallen in love, taken my first trip out of the country, and written not one or two but now four completed novels. I’ve experienced disappointments and heartache and have spent way too much time painstakingly monitoring my budget for any breathing room. I’ve lived. But it hasn’t been easy.
While backing into my parking spot seems insignificant, it’s not to me. I decided one day that I’m going to stop avoiding the things that scare me, no matter how small. I’m going to back into my driveway until it becomes second nature. One of these days I’ll even get it right on the first try. And I’m not stopping there.
I did kind of reverse my whole life while I was at it. I went back and thought about all the things I’ve avoided out of fear or some kind of crazy idea that I wasn’t good at something. I didn’t take art classes because I had the impression I wasn’t talented in that way. I didn’t take geography because I was afraid that it would be too hard. And what’s worse is that I love art and enjoy travel, and yet I avoided two areas that would have fit right into those interests. How else had I shaped my life around fears?
Love? Most definitely! I’ve been bruised and broken so many times that falling in love again seems like masochism. But I’ve decided the next time I have the chance, I’ll dive into that experience, too. And while I’m diving, I’m going to jump out of a perfectly good airplane next year to challenge my fear of heights—with a parachute, of course. I’ve decided I’m not letting any more fears stand in my way. I want to live my life to the absolute fullest, and I don’t care how clichéd that sounds.
Backing my car into a parking spot wasn’t the start. It was just one, small physical manifestation of a change that has been taking place inside me. It’s why I’ve been keeping my house tidy (which is impressive for a perpetually messy person), keeping my car clean, and starting to organize all those closets and drawers that can accumulate junk. I’ve started doing Project333, a minimalist effort at maintaining a more sustainable wardrobe. While my teeth are being straightened with adult braces, I’m training for a second half-marathon and eating healthier. I’m working on every area of my life, and I’m challenging the parts of it I used to avoid.
Which means that sometimes I have to sit with deeply uncomfortable emotions. When we shape our lives around our fears, we often do it to avoid those pesky, unpleasant feelings. I’ve always balked at fixing things around the house, but I found myself on YouTube figuring out how to fix the plumbing in my apartment when the handyman couldn’t make it out in time.
But it’s not just about tackling the kind of tasks we find challenging, it’s also about cleaning out our own inner closets. When I find feelings of loneliness creeping in, I learn to feel it. When I get swamped by feelings of loss, I learn to navigate those currents. I face the things that are hard rather than burying my head in the proverbial sand.
I used to call the idea of summoning my bravery the chicken challenge. I would challenge myself not to be the biggest chicken in the whole world and at least try. But this is more than just being brave. In fact, most people wouldn’t consider it brave to back a car into a perfectly wide, flat driveway. It’s about figuring out what parts of our lives are the way they are because fear has driven our decisions. It’s about confronting those feelings head on and trying something new because we don’t want to keep limiting ourselves.
Sometimes it’s about doing the things we’ve told ourselves we can’t because we realize that the thing holding us back is the thought that we can’t—and we’re creating those thoughts. So we learn to create new ones. To try, even when trying is hard. Especially when it’s hard. We learn to lean into our own resistance because there are things worth doing that are difficult. And sometimes we just get tired of the limits we’ve placed on ourselves—or the limits the world has placed upon us.
Maybe it’s not about bravery at all. Maybe it’s about freedom. Or determination. Or transformation. Maybe it’s about testing who we are against who we thought we should be. Or maybe it’s just doing something different to try that on for size.
Or maybe I’m over-thinking it, and it’s just me backing my car into the driveway like people everywhere. But I’m going to keep at it. I’m going to keep at the rest of it, too.
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