That time he crammed years of fear into one small sentence…

“A high school senior without a driver’s license is like a…” 

I struggled to complete that sentence as my student gave me a rueful smile and nodded his head. 

“Sorry,” I said. “You just took me by surprise. Why don’t you have it already?”

There was more sheepish smiling, some shrugging, some hemming and hawing, and then silence. Awkward silence.  

Nicely done, I thought, mentally kicking myself. Just as I was about to change the subject, my student blurted out, “I guess I just don’t know what I’m doing!”

“What, with the RMV? Dude, NONE of us know what we’re doing with the RMV!”

“No. With the car. I don’t know what I’m doing with the car.” 

That left me a bit baffled. This student was nothing short of brilliant!  Okay ,sure, a bit unorganized at times, but brilliant nonetheless. Unsure of how to proceed, I said, “Can you say more? I’m not sure…” 

And the dam broke.

“The car. I have to make sure it stays in control! It’s HUGE. It could potentially hurt someone if I don’t drive it right. And passing? I don’t know how to pass! Well, I do, but it’s nerve wracking. I haven’t done it yet. 

Highways? Well, they’re kind of scary. I haven’t been on one yet. There are so many things to pay attention to, potential dangers. 

Then there’s that class you have to take? Well I took it — but it’s all theory! You memorize stuff, but doing it is totally different … and… yeah. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Sounds like you DO know what you’re doing. It’s just that you’re doing something that makes you nervous right now.” I pointed out.

“Well I…” He stopped. “Yeah. That’s… that’s it. The thought of driving is kinda… terrifying.”

“Do you think it’ll always feel that way?” I asked.

“Probably not. I know I need to practice and just get used to it. I’ll probably be fine once I get experience.”

“So saying ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ isn’t quite accurate, is it?” I pressed.

He sat there for a moment, then said dryly, “I know where you’re going with this.”

He sighed, “You’re going to tell me that I’ve paralyzed myself by telling myself that I can’t do something when I clearly can.  It’s just that I’m just kinda nervous about it. Then you’re going to tell me to tell myself something different so that I can work on getting my driver’s license.”

“Sounds like you don’t need me to tell you anything. You’ve just told yourself. I keep telling you that self-talk is really powerful.” 

He shot me a look.  You know the one.  It’s that look teenagers give grownups who say something they don’t want to admit is right.  

“You’re welcome.” I said, then logged off Zoom before he could say anything else.

Never underestimate the power of teaching self-talk explicitly. You can change lives from the inside out.