Confidence Shifting Into Gear

Last month I traveled to Iceland for a ten day adventure in the land of fire and ice. The country is absolutely beautiful filled with strong, stoic men and women and painted with landscapes that are out of a fantasy novel.

I did some research for the trip and read about people driving Route 1, also known as the Ring Road, which is an 825 mile highway that runs around the entire country. I also read that it was very popular to rent a campervan for this excursion.

On an impulse I went ahead and booked a campervan for 5 days and 4 nights through a company called CampEasy. I was going to drive around the entire country and sleep at night in this van that came equipped with a little stove, sink and a back seat that folded out into a bed.

Two weeks before the trip I looked more closely at the details on the campervan and saw that it was a manual.

Crap! I had not driven a manual car since I was sixteen years old and had only driven around my neighborhood. (It was a Volkswagen Thing and not really well suited for highway driving or any speed over 30 mph.)

My friend Eric volunteered to teach me and he patiently provided an hour long lesson on driving stick shift.

We drove around a cemetery in Minneapolis, taking advantage of the quiet setting and lack of traffic so I could practice shifting gears, going into reverse and driving up hills.

My first four days in Iceland were spent with feet on the ground, walking around Reykjavik, visiting museums, walking along the coast and passing on the whale and puffin meat sliders at restaurants.

Finally it was time to pick up the campervan and head out on the open road. To get to the point of this post, driving stick shift in Iceland was a mini-lesson about confidence.

When I first got the car, I was nervous and felt ill prepared. As you can imagine, it took a few tries to just get the car out of the parking lot at the rental agency. Then I had to navigate my way out of the city to get onto the Ring Road.

The roundabouts through me for a loop as I did not know how to properly keep the car idling when I had to brake or slow down for traffic.

I killed the car in the middle of the roundabout with cars honking and giving me dirty looks. Driving a manual car is all about flow.

You have to feel in control of the car and seamlessly shift from one gear to the next and have a good command of both your feet as you slow down, speed up, go up hills and down, etc. You can’t think, you just do.

My flow had stoppage. I was clogged with nerves, fear and doubt about my own abilities. The first day I clutched the wheel with a white-knuckle death grip as it was rainy and windy and I discovered the Ring Road was one lane in each direction and no shoulder.

There were sheep crossing signs all over and warnings about slowing down and avoid blind turns as you went through the mountains.

There were bridges that were only wide enough for one car to pass. I wondered if this was to be my fate to die in a car accident alone on the road in East Iceland as my car flipped over into a lava field.

My lack of confidence led to a few more incidents of killing the car and not being able to get it going on numerous tries.

This occurred in the parking lot near an awe inspiring waterfall. I screamed in the car at my inability to move matching the roar of the cascade nearby. No one offered to help or ask what was wrong. I was left to my own devices.

“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” William Jennings Bryan

Over the course of the five days, my confidence grew even as I was faced with never ending rain, strong winds, countless sheep, gravel roads and a foreign country. Part of it was the sheer amount of practice.

I would suspect anyone would become well versed in driving stick shift if they had to spend that much time constantly switching gears.

But much more was just my ability to take a deep breathe and believe in my ability to handle the car and the road.

I experienced a lot of alone time. Two of the days it rained so much that I barely got out of the car.

And even when I did, I was hiking along glaciers and ravines by myself. The country only has a population of 315,000 and there were long stretches where I was the only car on the road.

I had to trust that I was good on my own. I could conquer this campervan and the road and enjoy this once in a lifetime trip.

The car would keep stalling if I didn’t believe in myself. The car won’t move, the barbell won’t budge, the job won’t change, the risk won’t be taken if one lacks the self-confidence to try.

My last day as I drove back into Reykjavik I was like an old pro. The countless roundabouts and stop lights were no longer troublesome.

I parked the van with a big smile on my face as I reveled in the adventure I had just experienced.

I Know Where I Am Going

2016 is soon coming to a close and I have decided it is time for this blog to do the same.

It started back in October 6, 2013 when I was inspired while sitting on the bleachers at the Granite Games in St. Cloud to challenge myself to compete.

I had diagnosed myself at the time as someone who participated in life, but was not being aggressive about putting myself at the forefront and striving to win in all aspects of life.

Three years later I realized that I was misdiagnosed.  The fact is while I may not have been competitive in sports up until that point (beyond high school swim team and golf), I was always putting myself out there and trying new things.

In New York City, a few years out of college, I was on stage performing improve at the Upright Citizens Brigade, the PIT and the Magnet Theater in front of family, friends and strangers.

Hell, a clip of me in rehearsal made it onto CBS Sunday Morning as part of a story on the rising scene. 

Then, in 2008, I moved to Rome, Italy and lived for two years in the land of pasta and the Pope with little trepidation about being in a foreign country and so far from home.

And, to some, even crazier was then moving to Minnesota in 2010 where I only knew my sister. Many know that it is a town that upon first arrival Is often cold (figuratively, not literally) and hard to warm up to.

The fact is that I was taking risks, albeit maybe not that dangerous. But what I lacked, and what this whole self-examination of the past three years helped me realize, was the confidence to acknowledge my strengths – a person who is naturally optimistic, who can easily adapt to new environments, who says “yes” to opportunities and who is open to learning and trying and dedicated to constantly improving.

What I felt so often on this blog was me oversharing – especially as I questioned my abilities and own gravitas – was actually my biggest display of confidence.

The ability to be vulnerable in front of others is a trait that should not to be diminished. Further, the ability to ask for help is a something to celebrate and not misinterpret as a weakness.

Help often came from the coaches and experts I sought out on nutrition and training. But it also came from the 21 interviews I conducted with athletes across a wide range of sports that I admired. 

Help also came from friends and family who responded to the blog with encouragement and stories of their own. Many were empathetic and could relate to this struggle with confidence.

Competing was a gateway drug. It forced me to push myself harder. The confidence that was underneath and that had showed itself in moments and phases throughout my life started to bubble to the surface.

The fact was that it started popping more frequently, and not just in the gym. I transitioned into a new role at work where I am tasked everyday with being in front of CEOs, board members, decision makers, church leaders, etc. and demonstrating how I add value to their world.

I bought my first house and quickly took over as President of the HOA. I became co-chair of the Urban Land Institute’s Young Leaders Group, which puts me in the role of representative who must attend management committee meetings and placed at tables with Mayors and developers and more. 

I went to CrossFit camp and worked out side by side with Games athletes. I traveled to Nicaragua to hang out for a week with 30 strangers and learned how to surf (and constantly got back up on the board after fall after fall).

And even this past September, I journeyed to Iceland and drove around the entire country in a Campervan.

So often people comment on all these various experiences over the past three years saying they could never and can’t imagine and don’t understand.

I say this with nothing but humility and as an acknowledgement of the personal growth I have experienced – I think nothing of it. Was it always easy? No. Was it absent of fear, anxiety and nervousness?

Of course not. But I am at a place now where I just act. I trust myself, I believe in myself, and I know that my strengths will help me through the most challenging obstacles I will face.

Perhaps this blog has just been a demonstration of the natural path of someone moving from emerging adulthood into full fledged mature adult. But I believe it is more significant than that.

Adulthood does not bring confidence. Neither do mortgage payments and administrative assistants or deadlifts and double-unders.

Confidence comes from within. It comes from experience. It comes from failing over and over but continuing to get back up.

Someone could have told me this three years ago. I’m sure somebody probably did and I’m sure people have been telling me all along. But I needed to go on a walkabout to figure it out for myself.

For those newer to the blog or just reading this for the first time, a “goat” in CrossFit lingo is something you suck at and need to work on.

In my very first blog post that I published, I said my goat was competing. I was wrong.  My goat was my confidence.

The name of this blog is “Man Meets Goat”.  It took me awhile to “meet” my confidence, but now I feel like I have finally have and we are past introductions. I know where I’m going. My training is not complete.

I have countless goals inside and outside of the gym that I want to accomplish. But that “goat” I have been carrying around for so long now seems lighter and smaller and not weighing me down.

Confidence can’t be bought or given or even won in a ring. It can, however, be encouraged. Others can help you look for it more closely.

And to date, I have so many of you to thank for helping open my eyes along the way. And that support I know remains even going forward. 

But now it’s time to walk taller, start looking outwards and show myself and the world the strength I possess everyday and encourage others to do the same.