When my sisters, friends, or coworkers are considering trying something new or different and ask me for advice, I almost always encourage them to go for it. I tell them they’ll never know what additional doors might be opened by the new opportunity unless they take advantage of it. I tell them that they should use a situation or an experience as a learning opportunity, that even if it sucks they’ll have learned something from it. I tell them that sometimes in life they have to face the things they’re nervous about. They have to do the thing that scares them. We talk about the worst possible outcome and how usually, even in that rare worst-case scenario, there’s something to gain from the experience. Just last night I said most of these things to my sister on the phone, when she was trying to talk herself out of going after a phenomenal opportunity that dropped into her lap this week. (By the way, Ginny, if you didn’t accept the offer, I will totally sock you in the eye.)
This has not always been the case, but right now I’m in a place and time in my life where most of the people around me are women. I believe the women in my life are strong and smart and capable, and I never want them to avoid doing something because they think they might not do it well, or because they’re nervous or scared of it. I hate that so many of the women I know feel unsure of themselves when there’s absolutely no reason for them to feel that way, and I try to do what I can to help them believe in their abilities.
But when I was faced with the possibility of having to jump-start a car this week, I found myself having trouble taking my own advice.
I wasn’t nervous because I didn’t know what to do. As I do with 99% of the situations in my life these days, I looked it up on the internet and studied the instructions carefully. And I took notes.
I was nervous because I am terrified of fire and electricity and was absolutely convinced that I would electrocute myself and/or blow up the car when I tried to connect the cables.
Logically, I know that my chances of blowing up a car are pretty small, but I really spend kind of an insane amount of time visualizing all the things I could do that might make the car blow up. Ditto with electricity. The chances I’m going to electrocute myself are generally pretty small, but I think a lot about all the ways it could happen.
I don’t use my cell phone or even so much as touch my car door when I’m getting gas, because I heard that could blow up the car.
One time I was on a highway off-ramp in heavy traffic and the redneck in the monster truck behind me starting yelling at me that my car was on fire. I pulled over and got out and sure enough, there was a ton of smoke billowing from under the hood – not overheating steam, but actual smoke. I called my parents who told me to try to start the car and at least drive it home, and I was actually crying as I did it because I was pretty sure that starting a burning car would make it blow up. As it turned out, a caliper had locked, causing friction between a few parts including my tire – hence the smoke.
I don’t like to go anywhere near a car battery under any circumstances, because that might make the car blow up (and also electrocute me).
I don’t like to use anything electric if there’s even a trace of water anywhere near me, because that might electrocute me (and blow the house up).
I have a loose outlet in my guest bedroom and I don’t like to use that outlet because I’m afraid it might electrocute me.
I won’t use a hair dryer with the toilet seat up, because I’m afraid I’ll drop the dryer into the toilet and it will electrocute me.
Oh, and by the way, I don’t like to touch anything metal if it looks stormy outside, because I might get hit by lightning.
It’s kind of a wonder I can function in the world.
So anyway, I know that these fears are kind of insane and irrational, and that the best way to get past them is to put myself in some of these situations to see that really, things will be okay. Sammi’s van wouldn’t start this week and on Monday, instead of buying mascara as I’d planned, I took my notes and a set of jumper cables and went to go try to help her jump-start the van.
I was shaking and sick to my stomach on the way over there. I was really, honestly scared. I found myself thinking of the whereabouts of the guys I know – maybe T is in his office, maybe D’s husband or her sons could help us – and then I was furious with myself for thinking that way. I am always telling my sisters to learn how to do things themselves, to be strong and independent. I want to be that way too. I own power tools, dammit. I kill bugs. I AM A STRONG, SMART, CAPABLE WOMAN.
And I got there and the parking spaces next to the van were occupied. And we thought about pushing it out of the space so that my car could get close enough for the cables to reach, but the van was parked on a bit of an incline. Even when it was just in neutral it started to roll forward. I was pretty sure that if Sammi and I got in front of a van parked on an incline, it would run us both over and crash over the hill, through the bamboo, and down onto the softball field below.
And I figured that might make the van blow up, so I decided against that strategy.
And then the next day Sammi went out to get something from the van, decided to try to start it on a whim, and the stupid thing fired right up.
So I guess I’ll have to wait a while before I can conquer my jump-starting fear. I have to admit that I’m pretty relieved about that.