The head start that I’d planned for — arriving in Atlanta early so I could get out of the city before Friday rush hour traffic — had evaporated in a two-hour wait at the car rental counter. In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, there were car rental shortages across the southeastern US. All rental companies had lines that snaked around every inch of the roped-off waiting area, and then some.
Smugly, I headed out to the Avis preferred desk in the parking garage, relieved to see a much shorter line. But they were apparently operating on egalitarian principles that day. All things considered, the preferred desk moved at about the same pace as that of the general population. There were zero cars in the garage. As soon as one customer would return a car, they’d wash and vacuum it, and hand it right over to a waiting customer.
Finally, a gray Dodge Charger roared to a stop in front of me, and I searched my brain for another option — a car more suited to my rigid sense of self — but this was my cross to bear.
I felt conspicuous and like a fraud in this big, loud muscle car. I’m accustomed to a safe, understated sedan. I was distracted and bummed that I had this domestic muscle car that was completely foreign to me. It sounded awful, like a dragon. I almost wouldn’t have been surprised if it had had flames coming out of it.
After a short time on the interstate, my route took me down 4-lane highways with lots of traffic lights. As I focused on the GPS, I would occasionally notice an annoyingly loud noise, and then it dawned on me: it was coming from my vehicle! Finally, The Dragon and I growled our way down the quiet, tree-lined street to an AirBnB guest cottage that I would call home for the next couple of days. As I pulled into the driveway, I couldn’t turn that hemi off fast enough. I was terribly embarrassed by The Dragon.
The next morning I drove to meet the group for the leadership retreat — a day-long walk in the woods with 8 amazing women leaders. Just my luck that I pulled into the parking lot in full view of my new friends. As they gathered around vehicles that people like us drive, I was certain they were judging me. As a result, I wanted the ground to swallow me. I don’t normally obsess about what people might think about me — or maybe I do — but I was sure in full insecure mode then.
During the retreat, I had a wonderful, soul-nurturing day. We shared and felt real and important things about human nature and connected in deep ways. We’d been asked by the retreat leader, Jennifer Daniels, president of Flying Laboratories, to bring along with us (in spirit) an inspiring person who had passed. I love this concept. It gave the participants the space to share our vulnerable and authentic selves in a creative way. Some women chose loved ones, others chose cultural heroes; I chose a WWII war correspondent named Michael Stern, who was at the liberation in Dachau, and issued some of the first accounts from a liberated Rome.
He was a smart, brave guy who lived for almost 99 years. I learned from his autobiography, An American in Rome, that he loved Rome so much that he stayed there for 50 years after the war, becoming a local celebrity in journalism and film production. He was also a philanthropist who partnered with Zachary Fisher to create the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City.
One of the exercises during the day involved portraying our hero giving us advice. When confronted with my perfectionism and fear of failure, I heard my Mike Stern character saying, let that shit go! By the time I got back to the car, I didn’t care nearly as much about the superficial things. I fired up The Dragon and roared off with my head held high.
The next day found me driving up through north Georgia, through the mountains of western North Carolina, almost to the Virginia border. As I started off early that morning, I didn’t cringe as much when I fired up The Dragon. And as I drove I was sitting up taller, actually enjoying the drive.
The scenery was absolutely beautiful. As I got to the winding roads, I fully embraced this beautiful, strong, loud car. It hugged the turns and had plenty of power to climb. With every mile I drove, I grew to love driving that car more and more. When I stopped for fuel — for the car, for me — I no longer thought as much about what others might be thinking (also knowing full well that they were probably not thinking about me at all!).
One of the greatest things to happen to me on this trip was when a guy in another Dodge Charger lifted a couple of fingers in greeting. That was awesome, he accepted me as part of his tribe!
I noticed as I drove up to the inn and parked, all trepidation about driving this car was gone. I was secure in my muscle car and didn’t care what, if anything, anyone thought. At the end of my trip, I was really sad to surrender The Dragon. I am surprised (and delighted) to report that I had an absolute blast in this car!
Shortly after this trip, my husband and I attended the Veterans Day Parade down Main Street, when what to my wondering eyes did appear, but the DFW Dodge Charger/Challenger Club. Some of the cars had interesting paint jobs and names like The Gremlin. And there was a woman driving a blue one named Cookie Monster. I grinned and waved enthusiastically like a goofball at every driver.
What limiting belief is holding you back? How do you see yourself? When you think of “people like us,” consider where that idea germinated. What can you do to expand that view, or better yet, refine it to who you are now, who you want to be?