I finally got my driver’s license two weeks ago at the ripe old age of 20. Connecticut’s public transportation system is virtually nonexistent and the area where I live is fairly unwalkable, so it’s kind of unusual for me to be getting my driver’s license so late in the game. Most of my classmates passed their license tests shortly after turning 16, and my little brother got his license last year right after his 17th birthday.
So obviously it can be a bit embarrassing to be a fully-grown adult without a driver’s license around these parts. Prior to getting my license, I mostly tried to excuse my lack-of-license through the fact that I was a year younger than everyone else in my year. Which is a perfectly legitimate excuse, I think — I didn’t get my permit until the summer after my junior year of high school (exactly four months after I had just turned 16), leaving me a little less than a year to get my license before being whisked away to college. And a very busy year, at that: college apps, AP classes, musical rehearsals…you know, as busy as a 17-year old high schooler can get.
Still, it took me nearly four years to get my license, and it can be difficult to overcome the stigma of that when you’re living in a place where kids are expected to get one in four months. I’m not an awesome driver, but I don’t think I’m inherently awful at driving to the point where it would seriously require four years of practice before I could even think about taking my license test.
I wasn’t bad at driving as much as I was terrified of it: panic attacks, shortness of breath, sobbing behind the wheel, the works. And because I was so scared of driving, I hated it. In my mind, it made perfect sense to be scared of operating a two-ton killing machine, but it didn’t make sense for driving to be such a run-of-the-mill thing that no one else seemed to be afraid of. Everyone else seemed to see driving as this giant fun-filled joyfest, and that only served to make my fear feel all the more illegitimate. And it made me feel incredibly small.
There are those people who simply refuse to do anything that they don’t like or aren’t good at. I don’t think I’m one of those people, but I am really good at strategically avoiding things that I know I will suck at. I didn’t take the calculus AP exam even after finishing the course because I knew I would do embarrassingly poorly. I never took another gym class after high school and did archery in college in order to satisfy the PE requirement. And as for driving? Well, I’d entertain the idea for a bit just to humor everyone around me, but I’d eventually move to a big city with a reliable public transportation system and never, ever have to get behind the wheel of a car again.
But as time passed and my plans of escaping into the city began to collapse, it became painfully obvious that learning how to drive was more a necessity than an option. And as I started to practice driving in earnest, it also became painfully obvious that learning to drive at age 20 was a hell of a lot different than learning to drive at age 16. When you’re sixteen, your life is extremely unimpressive. Getting your license is probably the biggest accomplishment you can possibly get at age 16. But more importantly, getting your license at age 16 is not just a matter of obtaining a useful skill. It marks your entrance into adulthood. It is a Life Event.
Getting your license at age 20, on the other hand, is another story. Granted, your life as a 20-year old is probably not that much more impressive than your life at age 16, but at least you have Done Things — you’ve gone to college, or written a 50 page paper, or held leadership positions, or worked at a job that requires business casual attire and pays more than minimum wage. In that sense, you’ve done things that exceed the prestige of getting a license; things that only grown-ups do. And grown-ups have their licenses.
But wait! What if you, a grown-up, haven’t gotten a license yet? Well, then, just get one — after all, it can’t possibly be harder than all of the other grown-up stuff you’ve already done. You’re smarter, more educated, and more mature than any one of these sixteen year olds with their licenses, so learning how to drive should be cake. Just take a week off from work and get it over with. Or, you know, whatever.
This was the one thought that plagued me as I struggled to learn to drive. On the one hand, there was the pressure from others who assumed that me getting my license would just as easy as returning an overdue library book. But on the other hand, there was a greater pressure stemming from my own ego — the little, eerily Hillary Clinton-esque voice in my head that kept shouting: You don’t have time for this trivial, juvenile shit! Just get it over with and move on to more important things! This is nothing! This should be easy! Because you are a Wellesley woman who will!
In the end, it was my pride that prevented me from accepting the possibility that I might actually be bad at driving, or that I might actually have to work hard at it — both of which turned out to be true. I refused to acknowledge that driving was something I just wasn’t good at — and even when I did, I refused to accept that this thing I hated so much was also something that I had to eventually conquer, something that I couldn’t strategically avoid like I always did.
My four-year long Journey to Licensedom isn’t a glamorous, heartwarming story about overcoming my fears or becoming a better person. It’s a story about a long overdue and very well deserved asskicking, as well as a hard lesson on the Myth of Being Too Good For It.
No one likes to be humbled…but hey, at least this time I got a driver’s license out of it.