Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity. –W. H. Auden
An accidental limitation of my nature is my fear of driving. I grew up in Kansas City and, like everyone else, got my license at 16, but I was always an apprehensive driver.
As soon as I moved away from Kansas City, my anxiety grew much worse. I did manage to drive when I lived in Washington, D.C., but was always skittish, and never ventured out of familiar territory.
My sister had the same problem. For the first three years she lived in LOS ANGELES, she didn’t drive! People were shocked. But she did finally overcome the fear.
From the beginning, one of my goals for the Happiness Project has been to conquer this driving fear. It shouldn’t be too hard, I told myself. I’ve never been in an accident, and neither has anyone close to me. I’m a perfectly decent driver. And, strangely, I’m much less nervous when I’m driving than when I’m contemplating driving.
A few weeks ago, a friend recommended Dorothea Brande’s Wake Up and Live!, a self-help book that was a huge bestseller in the 1930’s. I freely confess that I love that sort of thing, so I read it.
Brande claims almost magical results for her single precept: Act as if it were impossible to fail.
I decided to give her method a shot. This morning the Big Man and I had to go about two hours outside New York City, and I announced that I would drive. And I didn’t allow myself feel anxious; I acted as if of course I wouldn’t have any trouble.
I just grabbed the keys and drove, right out of the city even though New York City traffic terrifies me. (Well, I did have a bit of a melt-down as we were getting on the FDR Drive, but I got hold of myself quickly.) I was fine for the whole drive. And I even drove home again, which was much harder: we were heading into city traffic, at rush hour, as the light was fading, in torrential rain. We were caught in bad Manhattan traffic and detours for forty-five minutes. But I was fine.
Am I looking forward to driving again? No. But I do feel more comfortable with the idea of driving again. And I feel relieved that I’m taking steps to try to deal with an anxiety that’s been plaguing me for more than twenty years.