An unplanned trip to a Cracker Barrel for breakfast in Daytona Beach, Florida, brought me face to face with the Daytona International Speedway, the direct neighbor to this particular Cracker Barrel. Of course, I wanted to tour the facility and touch the track. As my parents and I bought our tour tickets, the option to drive a race car around the track or be driven by a professional driver was on the table. I couldn’t resist! I jumped at the opportunity to drive around the track all by myself and couldn’t wait to get in the car.
My top speed was 138.7MPH and it was the most exhilarating experience ever. Here’s what I learned about myself, success and life.
Be open to the spontaneous.
I did not plan this trip to the speedway and driving at Daytona was never on my bucket list I did not want the option to be driven by a professional driver. That just didn’t seem exciting to me. I wanted to feel the thrill of driving this powerful machine. I blocked my schedule for the rest of the day and decided that I could not pass up this opportunity. Seeing the racing greats on the walls, touring parts of this 480-acre facility, and sitting in the stands made me realize that now was the time! I wanted to live in the moment. How often do you give yourself permission to live in the moment? Are you receptive to the spontaneous opportunities that present themselves daily? Some of life’s best memories are not planned but we often miss them as we become too rigid. Each day you get up, look for the spontaneous opportunities that come into your life as they can be life-changing.
Say yes, even if you are not completely prepared.
As I completed the driver orientation video and check-in, I realized that I was not totally prepared. I was wearing open-toe sandals and they required closed-toe shoes. I panicked when I discovered the cars were manual. In my excitement to drive, I hadn’t considered that the cars would be manual. I have very little experience with a manual car beyond two or three lessons over 30 years. I was terrified. Fortunately, they had a limited number of worn-out shoes for people like me. Even though their preference is people with knowledge of how to drive a manual vehicle, they provided instructions for nonmanual drivers like me, coupled with a healthy dose of patience. How often do you disqualify yourself from opportunities and experiences simply because you didn’t check all the boxes? It’s more important to be committed to the process to learn and find solutions. Learn to say yes and then make a way.
It’s okay to be the only one.
As I checked into my driving time, I realized I was the only woman. All the other women who were there came to cheer on their male significant others. I immediately became self-conscious as the men looked at me with surprise and the women just looked at me with a look that seemed to say “You go girl” and at the same time, “You are crazy.” I quickly decided to ignore the obvious as I had already paid my registration fee and there was no turning back. So what if I was the only woman? Yes, when you are the only one it feels lonely. You may even feel unsupported, and while that may all be true, the most important point is to learn to be okay with being the only one. Follow your heart’s desire and your trail-blazing experience will pave the way for others.
Fail with grace.
My lack of manual driving experience quickly became public and problematic when I stalled the race car on the way down pit row towards the track. I had to be rescued by the red emergency pickup truck and driven back to the starting line while my car was pushed back up pit row by a few guys. I felt like time was suspended as my thoughts got stuck on words such as “how embarrassing” and “you are the only woman and you couldn’t get out of pit row.” As I hopped out of the truck in front of the all-male crew and the few female spectators, I decided to smile. A few people asked, “what happened?” I wasn’t sure how to answer but quickly said, “It might be helpful to know how to drive a manual car properly” and I laughed it off. A part of me was trying hard to reject all thoughts telling me to be embarrassed. I quickly regained my composure and thought to myself: “So what the car stalled, I’m not doing brain surgery here, no one died.” I still felt a bit awkward as I stood on the sidelines waiting for my next steps but I refused to look defeated. I kept smiling and looked optimistic. Setbacks are just part of the journey but how do you react when it happens publicly and all eyes are on you? Do you cry, get angry, shift blame, or avoid the situation? Learn to fail with grace; take the difficult process one step at a time, and rest assured it will work out even if it is painful.
Find your George.
As I waited for the crew boss to figure out what to do with me, an older man named George, who fitted my helmet earlier, came over and struck up a conversation, encouraging me to get back out and try again. He instructed me again on how to make sure the car does not stall. He shared stories of other drivers who stalled and how many had meltdowns, some even cried and some got angry. George looked at me and said, “I like your attitude, you will be fine.” The pit boss came back and offered me another try and, like a coach sending his player into the final moments of a game they were losing, George looked me in the eye and once again reviewed his instructions on how to make sure that car sailed down the tracks. His vote of confidence, his stories, and his laughter made me feel like I could make it happen on the second attempt. We all need people like George in our personal and professional lives. Who do you have in your corner to encourage you? Find the people who will push you back into the fight with all confidence that you will win.
Feel the fear and keep going.
I got back into my race car and this time they pushed me closer to the track but I still had to make sure I did not stall. The car bucked a bit and I prayed “please God don’t make this thing stall again.” I popped the clutch, gave it some gas, and I was off. I entered the track timidly and my guide at the top of the stands radioed me on the PA in the car and demanded that I pick up the pace. I was driving on the Daytona Speedway by myself! I was scared out of my mind and gripped the steering wheel for dear life. There was no turning back, no pulling over on the side, no reversing. It was full speed ahead. I was worried I would hit the barrier or spin out like they do in a real race. Snap out of it, I thought to myself! I focused only on the instructions of my guide. Stay at least 5 feet above the yellow line, do not slow down in the corners, and keep increasing your speed. How many times are you in the middle of a new experience and fear threatens to paralyze your progress? This is the time to focus only on the voices that guide and encourage you to say the course.
Have fun as it will be over soon.
After a few laps, I settled in, the fear still present but subsiding and in its place, a joy began bubbling inside as I realized I survived more than one lap. I began to relax a bit and again heard the encouraging words of my guide about how well I was doing. I wanted to go faster. A childish grin broke out across my face as I whisked by the bleachers, increased my speed and entered yet another corner, and still went faster as I opened up on the straightaway. As the adrenaline pumped in my veins, I wanted more. I laughed out loud like a gleeful child and yelled “thank you” to my guide over the PA system. Before I could fully savor this joyful moment, my guide announced that this was my last lap. My heart sank as I was now getting into this–my time can’t be up already, but it was. Sometimes in life, we waste so much time worrying and fearing that we cut short the time we should be spending truly enjoying the experiences we have. I encourage you today to make a decision to truly enjoy every moment of your life. Have fun now as it will all soon be over.
Karen Hinds is a leadership and diversity and inclusion expert. She used her experience in building talent pipelines for financial services companies to launch her company over 20 years ago. Workplace Success Group is a strategic, talent development firm that works with organizations to cultivate and retain their next generation of leaders.