I’m sure if you asked any competitor who has ever had the chance to run The Amazing Race their goal, they would shout “TO WIN!” For me? My goal was simply to start.
Here’s the thing about my brand of anxiety: This beast I carry with me has weighed me down like a high schooler’s overstuffed backpack and kept me from venturing out of my comfort zone my entire life. I was accepted to Northwestern University out of high school, but in the end, I panicked about being so far from my family. I thought perhaps I’d try to dance professionally, but I crumbled thinking about the constant rejection of the audition process. Yes, I had a successful career as a news reporter, but the stress of never knowing what city I would be in at the end of the day forced me to walk away. Some people crave the adrenaline of skydiving. I crave my couch.
But it’s strange, right? I’m the one who convinced Penn to quit his very secure news anchor job to start a video production business in 2013 with only two months of cash in our savings account. If I’m so anxious, how could I encourage such a giant leap? I have no idea. I had a feeling in my gut that working together on something, anything, was going to create a better life for our family. So far, the risk seems worth it but it doesn’t change that on a daily basis it’s like there’s a shadow on my shoulder saying, “Are you sure?” over every decision.
Anxiety is MY Superpower
Before we go too far, there’s a difference between “I’m nervous about the speech I have to give” and the type of anxiousness that many people walk with. I’ve been to psychiatrists and therapists through most of my adult life to help me with my anxiety disorder. It doesn’t make me weak, in fact, I think it may just be my superpower.
Hear me out.
We’ve been fans of the show The Amazing Race since it first aired twenty years ago. I was so fascinated with this race around the world that I put it on my “I’d love to do this before Jesus takes me home” bucket list. But when we got the call to submit an application for the show, I immediately froze. In minutes, Penn was setting up the camera for our audition tape and my chest started to tighten. I had to take deep breaths because it seemed like I couldn’t get enough air.
He said,” Babe! It’s your dream!”
The shadow of all my doubts started whispering, “You’re a middle-aged mom. You won’t be strong enough or fast enough to keep up. Your kids need you at home, not on a TV show. You’ll embarrass yourself and your family.”
But there it was, that feeling in my gut, that maybe… just maybe, even if we failed at every challenge we’d have the adventure of a lifetime.
We submitted an audition tape, filled out 97 applications, and flew to Los Angeles (TWICE) for interviews. The whole time, I was thinking to myself, “I’m getting credit for trying. If we don’t get picked, I will be relieved.”
And then we got the call. We were picked. Crap.
I would have to do the thing I always said I wanted to do.
Training For Everything
The anxiety shadow that sits on my shoulder screamed in my ear, “You’re going to suck at this.”
Then, my superpower started to take over. The only thing that calms that anxiety voice is preparation. I got As in school, not because I was the smartest, but because I was prepared. Even before we got the call, I had seen every episode of every season.
My anxiety fueled me to watch every season again. I started a Google Doc with why every contestant was eliminated and what they could have done differently. I had a plan for the type of tasks we’d choose and which we’d avoid.
I have watched the show enough to know we’d be the oldest couple in the cast.
We ran with backpacks for miles and miles. We carried weights over our head around the block and up the stairs in our house. It was a real-life Rocky training montage in our house. We did puzzles and even had a friend teach how to change oil and tires on a car. I didn’t even tell the producers how prepared we were because I didn’t even want to set up that line of questioning. It seemed to me that the people who brag about how prepared they are always seem to be the first ones out.
What’s Your Goal?
I needed that level of preparation to feel confident to show up on the starting line. When I got a look at the other contestants for the first time, the anxiety started to hiss in my ear. We had left our children at home and wouldn’t be able to contact them for almost a month. (You read that correctly. You travel without a cellphone and have no way of contacting your loved ones.) I knew I was as mentally and physically prepared as possible, but they all seemed so smart and SO strong.
Producers conduct a round of interviews before you start racing. Our very kind producer asked us, “What’s your goal on The Amazing Race?” I’m sure every other person shouted, “To win this!” I think my answer caught him by surprise. I simply said, “To start. If I can get off the starting line, I will have proven that my anxiety doesn’t rule me.”
The only spoiler alert you will ever read here is this: I did it. I was able to start the adventure that has taken up a line on my bucket list for years. Did the preparation help? Or, like in previous seasons, did the over-preparation cause me to over-think the challenges and get booted immediately? Only time and TV will tell.
I’m proud I started. No matter what happens, that’s enough.
The first two episodes of The Amazing Race air Wednesday 8PM EST, January 5th on CBS.