In January 2012, I picked up my life in New York City and moved to Savannah, GA to make needed changes. Fifteen “adult” years in New York had left me stagnant. It was too easy to do well in my career, party with the constant flow of fun girlfriends, and live in perpetual childhood.
If I wanted to grow up, I needed to change my geography.
I didn’t have a driver’s license because I’d let a lifelong anxiety about it take a towering presence in my brain, and living in New York City didn’t require me to have one. The truth is that Savannah is a place any resourceful New Yorker can navigate fine without a car. People are friendly and generous and my first year in town, I developed a personal relationship with Angel, a female cab driver and Savannah character, who negotiated volume discounts and took me where I needed to be if I couldn’t walk.
But without the noise of New York, I quickly realized that my fear of driving, an aversion without a clear reason, was one of those things that kept me a child… and I’d had enough. That fall, I hired a gentle retired drivers’ ed teacher who took me out driving four hours a week over a month and helped me get better at driving and manage my anxiety. With the encouragement of a small group of loved ones who were in on my secret, and Angel, I finally took the dreaded road test and passed.
Three weeks later, on November 30th, 2012, at age 37, I bought my first car, a brand new 2012 Nissan Versa SL Hatchback who my friend christened Vivian that weekend. In addition to moving, I’d left behind a steady job to open up my own recruiting and talent development consulting practice as part of my big changes. It had been successful and it was the first time in my life I had the kind of cash to drop on a purchase like that.
It’s the day I began to truly feel unstuck and understand the reward that comes from following through on risk and change.
A friend had driven me to the car dealership that morning to make my purchase and I drove myself home, alone in my new car, a seven mile ride I’ll never forget. The sun was shining, the temperature was in the 70s, and I was both immensely proud of myself and scared to death.
I’d rolled down the windows and found an 80s radio station- that unfortunately called itself an oldies station- and listened to Stevie Wonder and Eddie Money before I found myself at an intersection a few blocks from my house and realized I was in a left-turn only lane, when had I wanted to go straight. I turned left and eventually onto Barnard Street in downtown, a street I had never realized was quite so wide.
Even though it was midday, I was somehow the only car on the road. Suddenly “Beat It” by Michael Jackson came on the radio and a cloud literally moved through the air clearing up the view to Chatham Square as I drove north on Barnard. I could not help but squeal from uncontrollable happiness. I let a huge yelp burst out of me and bounced a few times in my seat as I completed my seven mile journey of freedom and real maturity.
I got married a little over a month ago to a wonderful man who I met in Savannah and was part of the inner circle who supported me on my quest to become a driver. When we were writing our vows, I went back to look at old journal entries to look at moments from our relationship that might inspire me. In retrospect, I am not surprised that the entry I wrote the day after I bought Vivian was about him, and how much I loved him, and how I felt like he was the man I was destined to marry. Experiencing those liberating and exciting seven miles helped me let go of all that shame and helplessness I’d felt and cleared the way for me to finally focus on what was really important in life.
Thank you, Vivian.