Conquering My Biggest Phobia

I have just got back from the Fast Company conference in LA. At one of the networking events I shared with a fellow attendee my challenge of writing an article a day on Medium. “Oh, this is wonderful” he said “I bet at first you’ll be a cautious writer but then you’ll become more open.” As I’m sitting and writing this post, my thoughts are going back to that moment. Inspired by that conversation I decided to share something very personal, unusual and embarrassing at the same time.

I used to live in New York City for years, in the city where nobody drives because it’s simply not worth it. It costs $700/month to park a car in the garage under your building or you can choose to deal with alternate street parking and keep searching for a spot in the street daily. Taxis and subways in NYC are so convenient and cheap that most New Yorkers opt in for being car-less.

Four years ago one of my longtime dreams came true — I was able to relocate from NYC to Hawaii and work remotely. During the first year living in Honolulu, I wasn’t sure if my move was going to be permanent. My hesitation was partially because I didn’t have a driver’s license and couldn’t drive. I would ask my friends for rides or take taxis postponing the necessary evil of learning to drive. The island of Oahu where I live doesn’t have public transportation that’s well developed like in Manhattan. In Hawaii it takes a long time to go to places by bus and most people have cars here. I knew that if I wanted to stay in Hawaii I needed to overcome my fear and learn to drive.

I was ashamed to even start the process and there was no-one to relate to as all my friends have had driver’s licenses and cars since they were teens. I didn’t dare asking anyone to teach me how to drive, I decided to sign up for classes at one of the driving schools. During the first few hours behind the wheel, the instructor noticed it wasn’t just about teaching me how to drive but also about me conquering my phobia of driving. When I was 20 years old, I was in a head on car collision. I wasn’t driving but the feeling of how hard we hit may have impacted me and contributed to the phobia.

During classes, my driving instructor was next to me and I was driving 20 miles per hour, being afraid that someone drunk behind the wheel would show up from around the corner and hit our car. I would be also afraid to go when having the right of way. I was scared that others didn’t know the rules. I would drive with hesitation. My one hour driving classes were the most stressful hours of my days.

After having taken 20 hours of classes, I took my driver’s license test, which I failed because of my hesitant driving. The examiner said she didn’t feel safe in the car with me behind the wheel and I wasn’t surprised. I was petrified. I decided to invest in more driving classes, this time choosing a defensive driving instructor, person working with people after accidents. Hours of driving lessons later I scheduled another test and failed again. This was disappointing because I felt I was getting way more comfortable driving and should have passed.

At this point, the whole experience started being expensive but I wasn’t going to give up after I’ve gone that far. I got 6 more hours of driving and scheduled yet another road test. This time I passed. I was relieved and happy. I remember meeting my friend on the beach after my road test to go for a swim. We usually swim to the flag mark and back which is around half a mile. When I saw her she said she was not going to swim. “I’m not swimming in this”, she said. I looked perplexed into the ocean and noticed there were some tiny waves. “I’m scared of the waves”, she added.

I then realized that the waves were her driving and that we all have something to overcome, we just have to keep driving.

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