Doing Scary, traveling alone, and bikini waxes

Friday, October 2, 2015

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face." -Eleanor Roosevelt

As part of my 6 month wanderings, I've decided to do a few things that scare me.  Get my motorcycle license, travel alone across Europe, rent a car and figure out how to pay a toll while driving a manual transmission in crazy French traffic, and get a Brazilian bikini wax (the scariest of all!). Fear is a strange thing. We're afraid as we anticipate the worst possible outcome of a dreaded event. And then in reality, it usually isn't that bad. Unless it is. And then that sucks.

But I'm working to conquer my fear of motorcycles, being alone, and bikini waxes. So here goes.....

Step number one: Get my motorcyle license. 
Oh wait, step number one: learn how to ride a motorcycle.

As I sat on the idling motorcycle, waiting for my turn to go through the obstacle course for the driving test, I was so nervous. I'm talking butterflies-in-my-stomach-I-might-barf nervous. I can't even remember the last time I felt like that. But I just thought- focus on the basics. Eyes up, look where you want to go, easy on the throttle.

I recently attended a talk given by world famous climber, Ron Kauk. This is a man that has 30+ years of climbing experience. He's one of the best in the world. He's climbed El Capitan in Yosemite (2000+ foot sheer granite face) over half a dozen times. When a friend recently asked him what advanced, difficult, detailed climbing technique he was working on, he replied, 'Breathing'. 

The most basic, primitive, usually involuntary skill. It's something all of us do every single moment without thought. But that was what Ron was working on after 30+ years climbing. Breathing. I love the simplicity of that. Keep it simple and focus on the basics. Another title for this post could have been, 'Three steps to overcoming fear', but that sounded too boring. But if I were writing an inspirational essay on overcoming fear, my three steps would be breathe, be teachable, and show up!

When I signed up for a motorcycle safety course, I was nervous about going to the first riding class. Would I fall and hurt myself? Hurt someone else? Crash the bike? Then I just thought, the first step is to just show up. You can do that. You can show up.

And remember the voice of that coach, teacher, or someone knowledgable and on your side. A good teacher will give you something positive to focus on. I decided to listen to everything the motorcycle instructors said, even if it didn't seem right or natural (like counter steering). Counter steering is pushing in the direction you want to go. It means your front wheel turns left as you go right. Maybe I'm the only one here but that sounds counterintuitive. Once I learned the reason behind it (it all has to do with the curvature of the wheel), then it made intellectual sense but I was still afraid to do it in practice. You have to be going fairly fast to make it work, which adds to the scariness of it. Once I decided to trust the teacher and do it anyway, it worked! Now I can feel the bike lean (and turn) more when I countersteer.

I read a book recently called 'Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway'. It wasn't that great of a book, but you can learn all you need to know from the title. Everyone feels fear. Don't fight it. Let it come and acknowledge it. Then keep trying, keep showing up, keep making an effort. Don't let the fear paralyze you.  

I grew up playing flute. I was very intense about this passion, practicing for hours each day after school and on weekends. A fun day was getting together with one of my best friends and playing flute duets. Yes, we were big time nerds and I loved it. I did a bunch of competitions and got nervous for every single one. But just before going on stage or into the audition room, I'd take a big breath and slowly move my fingers on the keys. The most basic thing I could do and it would help me focus. 

So I passed the motorcycle test and have my license- yay! Not everyone passed the class and I felt anxious as we waited in line to get our scores. Turns out I got the 2nd highest grade in the class. Yes, I'm a teacher's pet. I guess it never leaves you.

So now as I'm traveling around Europe alone, trying new things and not knowing what each new city will bring, I just remind myself, show up, be teachable, and most importantly- breathe.


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