Artificial Ceilings

Recently, I started listening to podcasts.  My two go-tos are Freakonomics and The Tim Ferriss Show, both of which I find incredibly interesting.  Last week, there was a rebroadcast on Freakonomics – an interview with Kobayashi Takeru, the guy that revolutionized the world of competitive eating.  If you’re interested in the whole thing, here is the link.

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The idea of eating even more than two (ok, three) hot dogs in one sitting sort of makes me want to yak, so when you say “as many as possible, and oh, the world record is X,” I want to crawl into the fetal position and die.  But it was this talk of the former world record, which was 25 1/8 hot dogs, that really struck me.  He destroyed that record, on his first attempt at the contest, and devoured 50 hot dogs.

Speaking through a translator, Kobayashi explained the idea of an artificial barrier, which is something I think I struggle with on a day-to-day basis:

I think the thing about human beings is that they make a limit in their mind of what their potential is. They decide I’ve been told this, or this is what society tells me, or they’ve been made to believe something.

Today, I reasoned that perhaps I’d been giving myself artificial barriers.  And I began to think about what might happen if I removed them.

I decided to start removing barriers at the gym.  I had the idea that I could only run at a 6.0 mph pace – maaaaaaybe 6.1 if I was feeling really ambitious.  But my coworker, who also has bad knees and rarely runs, told me that he sets the treadmill at 7.0 mph.  This got me thinking – yes I have short legs. No, I’ve never been particularly fast. But no, I’ve never tried going faster.  I just assumed I couldn’t do it.

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And so, tonight, I tried something new for my warmup run.  Instead of starting out at 5.8 mph, I set the speed to 6.5, and ran for 1.5 miles.  For the next lap, I increased the speed to 6.6, and for the last two laps, I increased it to 6.7.  And what do you know.  I did it.

It was a happy moment – I felt accomplished and proud, and I realized that my dream of a consistent 8:45/mile pace is actually closer than I thought.  I am motivated, I am determined, and I now have the confidence I can do it.

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And what if I applied that thought to finding a job?  Usually, it’d be, “I’d never get XYZ position, they never hire people with my kind of experience, I’ve never gotten an interview there before”…but if I bust through that wall and apply, you never know.  What if I applied this to finding a boyfriend?  “That guy would never talk to me, he’s out of my league, I can’t date that far up, I know what my limit is”…but maybe that limit isn’t actually there.

What if we all thought like this.  I realize this is a bit rose-colored (I’m probably still high on endorphins), but blindly accepting what we believe are the limits of our own abilities can hinder us – we stagnate, we don’t grow, we never achieve.  History is full of brave souls and amazingly intelligent individuals, but the only thing that makes them different from us is that they didn’t accept the limits society gave them.   What would we all achieve if we followed their example?

It’s just food for thought, but when your mind starts to wander, and you think of all the great things you might do….it’s a temping proposition to push the limits.


Driver of Eminence, Part 2

A friend of mine that has since retired from racing sent me this screenshot of our conversation from May:


I laughed, because I had totally forgotten about our conversation.  I had wanted to establish a new award for women, but I wanted to talk to someone in the know about nominating women for a typically male-dominated award.  I ran it by him, and started discussing women in the sport.

When he sent me the conversation, I just seen this email:Untitled


Heels on Wheels

If you’ve read any part of my blog, you know I love racing, cars, and Formula 1. You also might know that I’m a girl (let’s hope you figured out the latter before the former). If you combine those two nuggets of knowledge, you should be able to figure out that I’m a woman in a man’s sport.

Circuit of the Americas had a competition to win a prize pack worth $20,000, for the upcoming US GP this weekend. Awesome seats, travel and accommodations, a super-exclusive dinner, meet-and-greet with the drivers, paddock passes, the works. To enter, all you had to do is write a 500 word essay on why going to this race is on your bucket list. Despite the fact that I already had tickets, I wanted to enter the contest – because who doesn’t want a free upgrade, and this was the ultimate upgrade.


I spent a lot of time on the essay – more than I should have, I think. I spent more time on this 500-word contest than I did on many of my 5,000-word college papers. I tossed around ideas, which was a giant challenge, especially since I attended the inaugural race last year. Finally, I came up with a unique angle that I thought was creative, would definitely wow the judges (which was explicitly in the contest description), and make me stand out from the hundreds of entries about “I don’t have money and it’s my dream to go to Formula 1” and “I am in love with [insert driver name here].”

Halfway through the essay, something in the back of my head told me to read the contest rules. After a lot of fine print regarding what an eligible entry actually was (no plagiarism, no computer-generated stuff, words actually have to make sense), and the description of the whole prize pack, and how it’s for you and a guest, I stumbled across something that really left me surprised: The contest winner would be determined by random drawing from all eligible entries. “Random drawing?!” I thought. Here I was, sitting at my computer, putting all this effort into this essay, and it wouldn’t even matter what I was writing about. I felt a little jipped, and like maybe I was wasting my effort – that statement halted my progress for about…three minutes.

I decided to continue writing the essay, as I originally intended, because while developing the thesis, talking about my memories from childhood, and my progression as a driver, I realized that my “angle” was actually a lot closer to my heart than I had originally thought. As I put the finishing touches on my essay, it finally hit me – this wasn’t just some “angle to get me to stand out.” It is a lot more, and means a lot more than that. I saw how a trip to the 2013 Austin GP is actually on my bucket list.

My pregnant sister-in-law just found out the sex of the baby. I told her I didn’t want to know yet, but she immediately sent me a picture of a crib with a race car motif. “You just gave it away!” I exclaimed – until she reminded me that in our family, race cars are gender-neutral. And it’s true. But sadly, that’s not how it is in the real world.

Even though she and I are dedicated to racing, we’re very much an exceptions in this male-dominated sport. There are a handful of women in my region, and just a few hundred that participate nationally, out of 55,000 Sports Car Club of America members.

Driving is my passion. As a kid, I was found under the hood, playing with spark plugs, while my dad did tune-ups. I started driving at 10, and learned on a manual transmission – controlling the beast was exhilarating. Fast forward another decade, and I’m putting the finishing touches on my very first engine assembly, installing it, and turning the crank. I joined the SCCA, and it became an all-consuming hobby. I compete more than 30 times a year, mentor novices, and organize events. There are tires in my bedroom. When faced with prioritizing racing versus…well, anything, racing always wins.

On the course, I am inspired by women who vanquished stereotypes of their gender: Lyn St. James, Danica Patrick, Susie Wolff – all great drivers, period. When I started competing, I wasn’t sure that I could achieve the same parity with my male peers. At first, it was cool to be “the girl who simply tried.” I kept at it and became the “fast girl.” Now, after years of study, practice, and yes, trophies, I’m finally a “fast driver” – no “girl” qualifier required.

Yet there are still far too many female drivers who feel that no matter how hard they work, they will never be taken seriously in racing. I want to help change that.

Which brings me to my Bucket List. My big-ticket items aren’t crazy or daring; they are the ones closest to my heart. Living my greatest passion to the fullest – that’s what tops my Bucket List. And my greatest passion is being part of the motorsports world.

Driving is just one aspect of the racing experience. The heart and soul of racing is the community. It’s helping your teammates. It’s supporting other drivers, even your rivals. It’s cheering on the people you’ve never met and knowing you are a part of something huge, powerful, wonderful.

Nowhere in racing is this more apparent than at an F1 event. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsports, and attending the 2013 USGP in Austin, standing side by side with fans and racers, pros and amateurs, old-timers and beginners – all the while representing the women of this amazing community, and showing other women that they too can be an integral part of the motorsports world– there’s no greater joy that I can imagine.

The contest rules said they would announce the winner yesterday, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t win. It’s ok though – I’m still going to the race, and I’m really happy with recognizing that this sort of thing is important to me. Even if I don’t end up being involved in professional racing, I’m happy to work to be a role model for other female drivers, and I’m happy to be this girl:


China’s Lessons

sometimes, the most important things we learn are farther from the classroom than we had ever imagined. after seven weeks on the other side of the world, i learned so much more in the other 21 hours of the day that weren’t spent trying to learn mandarin. most importantly, i realized that my grip on myself, and what i had originally believed about certain things, is so much weaker than i had thought before i left.

i learned that it’s not about what you’re doing or where you are, it’s who you’re with that changes the experience. the moments you spend together, no matter who they’re with, should be taken in to their fullest. west lake is practically the most beautiful place i’ve ever been. but it seemed like a different place every time i went there, depending on who i was there with. it was like the first time i had been there, every time i went there with someone new.

baseball is practically non-existent in china. but we americans can still play it there. and sometimes, life winds up to throw you a curveball. you shouldn’t step out of the box because you think you’re not ready. you have to step up to the plate and swing. the worst thing that can happen is you have to swing again. you also have to be open to trying new things, even if you’re scared. you will almost always surprise yourself, and even if you don’t, it will make for a good story later. eating chicken stomach and the green tea toothpaste/ice cream/condoms are some of my favorite stories to tell. you also realize that your capacity to love, learn, and live is so much greater than you give yourself credit for. you should never settle because it’s what you’re used to and you’re afraid to take that step out of your comfort zone. you are doing yourself and everyone around you a disservice.

there were a lot of other things that happened on this trip. they all seem to overlap, because we had such a limited time and we tried to take in as much as possible. i learned that life is too short to deny yourself exactly what you want, when you want it. if you do, you’ll always regret it. if you want that pair of stilettos, or that last piece of tiramisu, you should just go for it. you’ll be happier in the end. of course, indulgence can also get you into trouble, and when that happens it’s generally not very pretty. even if your’e having a bad day, you should remember that someone is probably having a worse day than you. a guy walking in on his girlfriend and another guy constitues for a worse day than mine. it’s those times when you realize that even though it may seem trivial, your actions could mean the world to someone else. and to compound that, you shouldn’t begrudge someone for making an effort, whether it is to get in your pants or to carry your books.

we were with each other every day. we went grocery shopping together, to the noodleman together, and some of us even went to bed together. you have to take time for yourself, time to relax and reflect. you end up appreciating yourself, and enjoying your time with others so much more. we had a lot of fun in a group, but sometimes, it got to be a bit of trouble, because we didn’t’ always have plans set out. we didn’t have a place to stay in shanghai for four hours. we sat outside a hostel for that long, until we decided we hadn’t eaten in roughly ten hours and were starving. being aware and informed of the plans for a situation is important, but if you’re not, you can’t stress about it and worry. you’ll make yourself sick. instead, be assured that what needs to happen will happen, and you’ll be ok. even if some of us had to whore ourselves out to the locals, we would all find a place to rest our heads. and we did…find a place, not whore ourselves out.

a lot of us brought pictures from home. just to remind us of what we were going to be returning to. you should never take pictures down or throw them away out of sadness, anger, or longing. when you look at them, even if the people and places are no longer, you should try to remember the situation surrounding the picture, and exactly how you were feeling when the picture was taken. these are happy memories. i feel like our time was cut short, and i didn’t want to leave. china was so colorful and fun, that i feel like i could have stayed another summer. and another after that. and have a forever full of wonderful times. don’t get me wrong, i’m happy to be home in some respects. i missed people and places, and driving my car. but while i was there, i missed the beach so much. there is nothing like an east coast beach. maybe it’s the salt, the sea air, or the sand. whatever it is, i don’t ever want to have to go too long without one. nothing cures like the surf.

from this trip, i have so many happy memories. i have a few sour ones as well, but the happy ones far outweigh them at least tenfold. i think about the time there, and i can’t believe i almost chickened out and didn’t go. i realized that opportunity costs are solely immediate. yes, i missed out on months of work (a giant sum of money), beach days, my friends, my family, fourth of july, and so on, but chances like these come once in a lifetime. we have to recognize those chances and take them, because they’re always worth it. maybe you won’t always end up where you expected, but i learned and grew so much more than i was anticipating. i didn’t realize it until i was home, but now i see the progress i’ve made, as a student, as friend, and as a person.

Starting Over

whenever i was feeling down, i used to open my hotmail account and read a saved letter from a friend of mine named harold lee. he wrote it to me after i suffered the biggest disappointment of my life to date: my rejection from brown university. a student there himself, he told me that he was very sorry, but it didn’t really matter, beacuse i was going to be very successful no matter where i went and what i did. he told me that a college is just college; the people you meet, the things you do, and the places you go are much more important than the institution. it was as if those words soothed the enduring pain of “we regret to inform you…”

one day, not too long ago, i opened the account. to my horror, everything had been deleted, as it was over 60 days since my last login. i nearly cried; the four paragraphs harold wrote to me were the binding fibers of my acceptance of going to uri…i felt as though they wre ripped at the seams.

what about my email being deleted got me so upset? after a long walk, i figured it out. i was being forced to choose between being consumed by regret and pain, or to let go. and then i got to thinking: when it is time to let go?

as i observed my surroundings for the next few days, i realized we were all holding onto things that needed to be buried, forgotten, or just laid to rest for a while. one friend had a horrible time with his ex-girlfriend, but she was constantly calling and leaving cryptic messages that could only have been directed towards him. of course, after the messy split, they had both gone to the arms of (quite a few) other people, but why couldn’t he ignore her calls? and why did she keep trying?

another one of my peers received a not so stellar grade on an exam. it was the first of four, however, and with a little studying, it could be brought up in no time. however, he continued to labor over it; saying he’d never get an a and he didn’t see the use in studying because he was obviously so stupid. but why didn’t he just try harder the next time? use this one as a stepping stone, and work his way up to the a he so desperately wanted, instead of giving up and dwelling on his “stupidity?”

finally, the case that baffled me: a friend of mine obsessed about one night with a particular gentleman so much, that it drove me up a wall. after analyzing why he didn’t call back for the fiftieth time that next day, even though her hair was perfect and he was a perfect date, she decided that she was better off and that it would do her good to forget about him. and in an instant, he was gone.

why was that so easy for her? it takes me longer to forget about someone cutting me off on the highway than it did for her to forget this guy! why can’t i simply get over things, and other people can with a change in the wind? why do they continue to bother me, and a large portion of other people, until we’re crazy?

maybe it’s that we can’t let go of the things that cause us great hurt or pain. it is so great sometimes, that we stay bitter for a long time. or maybe we can’t let go to the things that we would like to happen. it’s being overly optimistic, and it never works, but maybe that foolish hope is what keeps us going.

the more i thought about harold’s words and my friends and their dwellings on various topics from cars to clothes to college, i realized that maybe it’s not about letting go or even holding on to something. maybe it’s about accepting the things we can’t change, and seeing the sliver lining in the cloud. and knowing that we can’t change even our own worlds to be exactly as we want them to be. maybe it’s about being ok with the things that unfold, because in the end, we’ll have learned what we need to.

i don’t need that letter anymore because i know what harold said three years ago was just what i needed to hear. i just had to learn that for myself, even if it was a long time coming. and i may never get over that rejection, but as i grow older, accomplish more, and find something to smile at every day, at least i’ll know that harold was right.