Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while now might remember that last year, I took the plunge and learned how to drive. I was fortunate to have a fantastic teacher, glorious good weather over the summer in Suffolk, and an examiner who, whilst slightly baffling in the moment (there were at least three separate occasions when his behaviour suggested to me quite unequivocally that I must have screwed up and failed) passed me first time. So by October, I had my fetching pink driving licence, and formal legal permission to drive all by myself.
It’s taken another five months since then to actually have the time and headspace to get around to buying a car. And last weekend, I picked said car up from the garage, peopled with friendly, helpful folks who were very kind and conscientious in talking me through all things vehicular, and drove it home.
Since I spend a couple of days each week in London, I’ve only been out on a couple of voyages so far. But it’s been rather interesting – to me, anyway – to see what I’ve been most, and least, anxious about in setting off on my own four wheels.
The first thing has been all about sexism. Not, I hasten to add, men making sexist statements or gestures in my general direction, but my absolutely assuming that they will. Apparently I’m sexist at myself about driving. Which is nuts. But there it is. I had to go and pump up my tyres this weekend, and a guy was sat behind me in his Land Rover, with the engine running, whilst I carefully checked all four tyres. He didn’t shout, or rev his engine or beep his horn, or even look at me weirdly – or at least, I assume he didn’t since I didn’t actually dare make eye contact. But I managed to convince myself that he was sitting there thinking ‘stupid woman, taking so long with that piddly little car.’ Like I say, nuts. But apparently I seem to have picked up somewhere that I need to know as much, if not more, than men about cars and driving in order to be a valid road user. Since I’m extremely fortunate not to have had to deal with direct sexist behaviour most of the rest of the time, I find it fascinating that somehow the bit where I’m behind the wheel apparently eradicates that sense of confidence. Of which more in a moment.
Next up comes the idea that everyone else on the road is a better, more capable, more competent driver than I am. Now I fully allow for the fact that the vast majority of drivers have been behind the wheel longer than I have, and may well have had to deal with some pretty tricky or indeed dangerous situations during that time which I have yet to face. But I’ve certainly witnessed some pretty stupid driving from folks during my time learning (and indeed during my few outings in the new car) which provides me with rational evidence that not all long-term drivers actually know what the heck they’re doing. And yet, every time someone ends up behind me, I imagine their own internal monologue to be something about how slow and badly I – the person in front of them – is driving. Yesterday, as I zoomed back along the dual carriageway in the pouring rain, I found myself berating myself out loud: ‘just because they’re behind you doesn’t automatically mean they think you’re rubbish and want to overtake you.’ Apparently I have auto-impostor syndrome.
And this, I have to say, was what tipped me off to the big one here. It seems that all the insecurities I used to have about academic work and professional life, and have managed to exorcise through a process of dealing with each calmly, rationally and over some time, have actually all spent the last few years in a neatly sealed tin in the back cupboard of my brain marked ‘not to be opened until you learn something new.’ And lo, they have returned.
And I doubt that I’m alone in this, actually: in fact, previous experiences I’ve had in learning other new skills (admittedly none involving being in control of a potentially lethal box of metal and combustion engine, but still), and talking to others trying something new, confirms this. The older we get, the less time we tend spend in doing things that are entirely new to us. The stakes get higher, the risk of failure and the social implications of this become more terrifying. It’ll probably take me a while to get over the impostor syndrome, the fear of messing up, the fear of the implications of messing up (I’m talking about small-fry mistakes, not massive, lethal ones!) – and indeed the idea of just doing something I’m not yet really familiar and practised at. But of course, practice itself is what makes perfect. Or at least more comfortable and less anxious. I bet you all have an activity or two that you feel the same about… and if so, I’d love to hear from you.