I love collecting skills.
I thrive in an academic environment but beyond that I have a strong appreciation for competency in doing things.
I can drive stick, set rebar and finish a concrete slab. Once upon a time I welded. I’m a decent marksman with a rifle and I know my way around camping and back country safety. I’m handy with tools and was the first person to teach my husband how to use a car jack when we were teenagers.
This past weekend, I started mastering my newest thing. I learned to ride a motorcycle.
It takes a few laps to get a feel for the balance of holding up a machine that weighs a few hundred pounds. That’s in addition to working a clutch, gear shift, throttle, front brake and rear brake with all of your hands and feet in tandem. And then add some wonderfully helpful instructors distractingly yelling directions and feedback at you every time you pass them.
I feel somewhat glad that I managed to only drop the bike once instead of the half dozen times when I was sure that a fall was imminent.
It takes a little while to get the hang of it and longer still to believe that you have. Each time an instructor stopped me for feedback they’d say they could tell I was hesitating.
“You’re doing it right, now hit the throttle. Commit to it!” And they’d send me off while gesturing wildly to speed up.
There’s an interesting thing about riding a motorcycle that I didn’t know because I hadn’t experienced it until this weekend. You spend a lot of time not looking at what’s in front of you.
If you’re crossing an obstacle, you don’t look at it, you look beyond it.
When you want to turn, you look through the turn to where you want the bike to eventually end up. The bike follows the line and balance of your body and the movement you start when you turn your head.
You go where you look.
It’s a weird feeling to not monitor the lines that you’re supposed to stay between. The trajectory has to be worked out before you even start to turn. Once the turn has started, you push the inside handle out to lean the bike in and turn your head to look at the end of the turn. Then you accelerate to create the force you need to complete the turn.
There’s a moment at the apex of the turn, the sharpest flash when you can feel everything pulling at you — gravity, inertia, uncertainty. It’s in that moment that you have to commit, to lean into it and hit the throttle. You physically feel the second that you know you will make it around the turn.
It’s a daunting commitment the first time you do it. And the second. And the third.
It was on my third lap around an instructor when I could see him cup his hands over his mouth and he started shouting in my direction and pointing to the other side of the track.
“Look at where you want to go.”
I hate talking out loud to myself, nonetheless right before the turn I found myself muttering “You’ve done this before.”
And I have. I know how to look past where I am so that I can see where I want to go. It’s how I’ve managed every obstacle that’s ever been in my way.
I’m doing this amazing fellowship, surrounded by amazing people, each of them navigating their own twists and turns.
I’ve started my project and it has traction. I feel like I know how the parts work together and I’m sure I can make it run smoothly. Out of everything I’m nervous about, my project is not one of them.
But for the rest of it…
Some days, I just really want to hit the brakes and stay home. I don’t quite know how to navigate the path between the social lines without looking at them carefully. I’m quiet when I’m in groups of people. I struggle when it comes to accepting invitations to things.
It’s a baffling disconnect. I rarely doubt my decisions about what I’m doing with projects, classes, jobs or responsibilities. I don’t dither on decision making. I don’t spend hours second guessing myself. But as soon as it comes to what I’m saying and when and how and to whom, I can feel myself start to squeeze the brakes and I start watching all of the obstacles that have suddenly appeared directly in front of me.
I’m at the beginning of a big turn and I can’t quite see through it yet.
Whether it’s the uncertainty about what I’m supposed to be saying or doing at any given moment or my awkwardness when we’re just a group of people talking, I don’t feel like I know yet how to lean into this experience socially.
When I found out I was accepted into the fellowship, my first thought was that I finally had time to work on something I truly cared about. My second one was how badly I hoped that all of the stories I had heard about the closeness and importance of the relationships made during the fellowship would someday be my stories.
So now I’m feeling for that point in the turn when everything shifts underneath me and something — a discussion, a conversation, a connection— pulls at me. I’m lining up my trajectory to put me on the path toward that moment. I’m going to look at it and put my anxiety out of my line of sight. I want to be here. I want to lean into these moments and commit to them.
Heather Bryant is currently a JSK Fellow at Stanford studying how to help newsrooms build effective and meaningful editorial collaborations. She is also the founder and director of Project Facet, an open source software project to help manage the editorial process and facilitate collaboration between newsrooms. Facet received a Knight Prototype Grant in 2015.