I was terrified to learn to drive. I was anxious about a lot of things, but the entire concept of powering a vehicle was unnerving.
I knew I was terrible at bumper cars. Even despite the fact that bumping was kind of the whole point.
I knew that when we were on vacation in the Dominican Republic, six months before I turned 16, I got behind the wheel of a dune buggy and pretty much immediately went off the road, into a ditch, and into a fence. I cried. My brother laughed. The guides pulled it out and my brother took over the wheel.
Unlike most kids, I did not get a permit on my 16 birthday. I didn’t get my permit until the summer before college, not because I wanted to drive, but because I wanted to have a form of ID. Practicing driving is a lot harder when you’re two hours from your parents. I took my driver’s test over spring break in my last year of college. Was still terrified. But I passed.
Five years later and I drive kind of like a maniac. Windows all the way down, even when it’s raining. Music all the way up. Shoes off. Left foot up. One-hand steering, one tapping along to the music. I’m not entirely sure it’s safe.
I went from panicking when I went over 20 mph for the first time, to driving an hour or more almost every weekend to climb mountains. I went from being anxious to go to a local nature park alone, to getting up at 3 am to go hike some of New York’s tallest mountains alone. When I go places with friends I generally volunteer to drive, but I’m also equally comfortable going places alone. That’s something I absolutely hated in college. Before COVID, I was planning a solo cross-country road trip.
I’m not sure exactly what changed or when it changed. And that’s the thing about personal growth. You rarely see it happening or feel it happening. But when you look back years, or maybe just months later, you’ll notice just how different things are.
I never stressed about wanting to change, or grow, or be better. But every little thing I did that was slightly better than the day before, was a step forward. And that sounds cliche as hell, but it’s true. Some steps are bigger than others. Going back to therapy. Overcoming fears. Putting effort into an education. Those are big steps. Getting up and going for a walk? Eating a vegetable? Reading a single chapter of a book? Little steps. Little changes. Lots of growth.
It’s like my plants. I have a handful in my office, some I bought, others were gifts from co-workers. I never noticed how much they had grown until I looked at side-by-side photos. Sure I watered them, and gave them sunlight, and repotted as necessary, but never actually noticed.
I look back at old photos or Facebook memories, or that time I dug up my old Tumblr from 2011–2014, and I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled that I no longer go on incredibly angsty rants about how much I hate my mother (sorry mom, I love you!). I’m shocked at how much my writing has improved. I’m definitely happier than I was in highschool. My brother and I have a much better relationship. I enjoy reading for fun again. I’m a stronger hiker than I was even just a year ago. I’m a better person than I was five years ago. And I can drive.