Would my very adult-sized butt fit in a seat made for small children?
Would my legs fold up enough for my feet to reach the green and red pedals?
Would I make it around the curvy, tire-lined track without spewing the queso I’d had for lunch?
These were the pesky questions that raced through my mind as a mustached 15-year-old amusement land worker came up to give me a 30 second safety/pep talk.
His single question, “You know how to drive, right?” didn’t exactly set my heart at ease, particularly since I was surveying my fellow “drivers,” the median age of which had to be eight.
He also didn’t check my seatbelt, the way the dedicated Six-Flags employees do (by yanking at a flimsy piece of cloth meant to protect you should your bucket seat remain upside down longer than intended).
But I didn’t get long to entertain these worrisome thoughts.
There was no checkered flag, or a flashing green light to signal the start of what I suspected might be the a dance with death.
Instead there was just the kid with the mustache, making minimum wage, slouching near the front of the line of vehicles manned by third-graders.
“Go,” he said.
And without fanfare we were off, the elementary students, my husband and I.
I don’t know when the last time you drove a go-kart was, but I hadn’t been behind the strange, padded wheel of one since high school at least.
That’s been more than ten years. TEN YEARS!
A lot happens in ten years. Muscle atrophy. Most of your favorite musical groups split up or retire.
And a whole heck of a lot of fear can accumulate if given a decade to fester.
In my case it felt like all I'd done since high school was grow afraid of a great many things, not the least of which was go-karts.
But, that makes it particularly amazing how fast those fears flew out the “window” when I determined to do something that scared me, then hit the gas. Hard.
Sure, I shrieked a little as I headed into my first corner, unsure how my shiny yellow kart would handle.
And I wondered, as I used all my might to slam the gas, trying to get more than 35 miles per hour, which would come first: the finish line or a nasty Charlie Horse in my right leg.
But by the second turn I had determined to catch up to my husband several karts ahead.
And with that goal spurring me on, I was able to barrel past any remaining fears as I finished my first lap, and then set out to drive the second as if I were Jeff Gordon/Mario himself.
For those of you unfamiliar with go-karts they are basically a poor man’s tank. They’re nothing special to look at, but they’re practically indestructible.
They have a much lower center of gravity too, giving their “drivers” the ability to make tight corners without slamming on the brakes.
This was something I learned while attempting to pass a small, red-haired boy of about seven, who looked back at me through his large glasses with both disgust and terror in his eyes.
I had bumped him ever-so-slightly in my attempt to keep my
speed going through the curve, and while I had a tinge of guilt (the way any
reasonable adult would) I also determined in that moment, this was no place to
let guilt slow me down.
So I shrugged my shoulders at him as I passed that poor kid, and then another, and another… ‘til eventually I had not only passed but lapped my husband (who granted; had one of the oldest, slowest karts out there) and made my way successfully towards the front of the pack.
When I spotted dozens of parents standing in the distance I knew they probably thought I was a monster, barreling past their small children, mouth agape and shouting “woo hoo” most of the time.
(Heaven only knows what they thought when I shot an “I Love You!” sign to my husband, a sign language standby that probably looked a lot less wholesome, much less romantic, from a distance.)
But, quite frankly, I was having too much fun to care a whole lot about what they thought.
And I've got to tell you, what a glorious, foreign feeling that was!!!
It turns out they don’t pass out trophies at the Go-Kart/Batting Cage/Paintball/Mini Golf/Arcade off the highway.
Not even ribbons. Or stickers. (And man, a sticker would have been nice.)
But I didn’t really need one to leave that track feeling like a winner.
The second my brown ballet flat hit the gas I knew I had accomplished the stuff of dreams.
I had conquered a fear, then blown past it with the wind at my back.
And it felt good; it felt so good.
I hope you won’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to advocate merciless driving here.
In fact, I applaud all the parents in the world with more discipline, self-constraint than I displayed behind that tiny, padded wheel.
What I am realizing, and trying to say, is that I think a great many of our fears - be they getting stuck in a bucket seat or worrying what other people will think about us - are probably unfounded, or at the very least worth conquering.
When this year began I held off on sharing one resolution I secretly made with myself.
It was a resolution to do more things that scare me, to start saying “Yes!” to some things that are frightening.
And frankly, I kept quiet about it 'cause I was scared I wouldn't follow through.
Clearly I’m not an expert on conquering fear.
In fact, I’m relatively new to doing anything brave ever.
But I hope that doesn’t disqualify me from sharing this story with you, or from preaching the value of getting past or over the things that hold us back.
'Cause I feel like it's important. At least I know it's become very important for me.
While I haven’t booked a Bungee Jumping excursion, or decided to vacation in some war-torn land yet, I have already conquered some fears I’ve been harboring for years:
- I used a food processor unsupervised for the first time a few weeks ago. And I didn’t lose a finger, catch the kitchen on fire, or even ruin dinner, the way I suspected I might.
- I also sang in public with my husband’s band, in front of people that aren’t related to me or obligated to tolerate/like my voice. It wasn’t a roaring success, but it wasn’t a disaster either.
(For the record I'm using the following definition: a "disaster" is me literally throwing up anywhere other than a bathroom stall. This instance was a narrow victory, but a victory nonetheless.)
- And then I drove the go-kart, instead of sitting it out the way I was very tempted to do. I could have used my camera as an excuse. “Oh I’ll just take pictures this time.” I could have explained the queso situation, and I’m sure everyone would have understood.
But instead of grasping at some lame excuse, I timidly said
And because I choked back the fear, and put on my seatbelt, I ended up having a really great time.
In coming months I hope to conquer fears in even more practical ways.
Like saying “yes” to some freelance opportunities that it’d be easy to turn down.
And saying “yes” to some chances to forge friendships, even though it’d be easier to stay in my comfortable little bubble.
‘Cause while I know some fears serve a purpose…
For instance, it’s good I thought twice about ordering a hotdog from the concession stand at an arcade that smelled of B.O. and bowling shoes. (Particularly since there was not a bowling alley in sight.)
It’s also good that I don’t drive our 1994 Jeep Cherokee the way I drove my go-kart.
… I also know that most of my fears are not based in wisdom.
They’re the silly kind that serve no function whatsoever. And I’m sick of letting them control me.
I don’t want to live my whole life afraid of go-karts. Or kitchen appliances.
And I don’t want to let the fear of failure or embarrassment keep me from pursuing my passions.
So this year I set out to say “Yes!” more.
And I really hope some of you will join me on this journey.
I hope you'll start saying “yes” to some things that scare you too.
Together we can push outside our comfort zones. We can commit to trying new things, to silencing fears.
We can learn to be braver. We can aspire to overcome our fears.
And, we can have a heck of a good time doing it.
Now, let's hit the gas!