Why the Bar is Lower Than You Think

A view from my solo road trip last October.

I didn’t get my driver’s license until I graduated from college.

I grew up in a city, and didn’t have a parent who wanted to teach me, and so I just never got around to it.

But in the spring of my senior year I suddenly had to learn to drive: I’d accepted a job in California, and driving the company car was part of the gig. “No problem!” I said, because who doesn’t have their license at the age of twenty-two?

And so then I needed to learn how to drive, and fast. I persuaded my college friends to take me out for the kind of driving practice you do when you’re fifteen–I still have memories of swooping around circular highway off-ramps with my friend Jeff, and thinking, “Holy crap, will this curve never end? This is a lot harder than a video game.’

I was terrified.

Driving phobia runs in my family–my grandfather started teaching my mother to drive by reminding her that “a car is an instrument of death.” Yikes. And so when I got behind the wheel, I was bringing in all that history and baggage, as well as a little bit of shame that I was behind the curve, and of course, the time pressure to figure it out–and fast. This turned into a lot of self pressure, performance anxiety and more–every time I got onto the road I was setting myself up for even more runaway anxiety and fear.

And then I had a realization that changed the driving game for me. And it’s helped me with performance anxiety ever since.

“Stupider people than me do this ever day.”

People get into their cars every day, and while accidents do happen, the majority of people who drive every day in America do not kill themselves or others. Of course, getting behind the wheel is a serious responsibility (I’m sorry, I know I sound like an outdated DMV manual here) but I had to just be a bad driver until I became a good driver, otherwise I’d never be a driver at all.

Also, just in case you were wondering, ‘stupider’ is not actually a word. Which just goes to show that you don’t have to be perfect to get what you need.

There are things in our lives that we are not ready for. That we’re not good at yet, that we might even flop at.

We need to do them anyway.

And sometimes when we look around, we realize that maybe the bar isn’t as high as we thought it is in our minds, that the level of polish, service and sophistication we hold ourselves to as a standard we can never meet, is not actually the standard out there in the world. It happens to me all the time with client-based work, and I’m learning to understand better what the bar actually is, so I can spend my time and my client’s resources more intelligently, and to fully own when I think the standards need to be higher, instead of falling victim to that persistent voice in my head.

Confidence is a verb, not a noun. You build it by doing it. Behind the wheel or behind the podium, or even behind your computer monitor.