I am so grateful you are taking the first steps at following your dreams. I am even more grateful that you are taking the time to read this. I was once in your shoes. Scrambling for a road map to my goals but, real talk, that’s between your ears, not mine. Everyone’s journey is different. Its formed through your own decisions, obstacles, strengths and weaknesses. I lived my dream as a professional mechanic. But I am also the girl who got off track of her goals too many times to count. It is a blessing that I achieved what I set out to do. And unfortunately, this is not an inspirational letter. This is a recall of facts of my journey and a beginning to an even bigger message that I hope to continue to share.
My goal is to arm you with some IDEAS and processes to help you navigate the inevitable road blocks that you WILL face when those inspirational quotes fade. My HOPE, is if any of these things get set in your path, they sound familiar and you’ll see that this is totally part of the deal and it doesn’t have to derail your plans or break your spirit. I want to provide a pocket full of tools so to speak. Fitting, coming from a mechanic, right?
In 2005, racing cars was my world. I drove them, built them, and found sponsorship for them. I loved everything about it. I worked for my Dad at our family run sign company and raced cars on the weekend. I spent every night during the week in the garage working on my race car. My social life consisted of my friends coming to the garage to watch me work while they drank beer and made plans for later that night. Sure, I went to a few parties and had my share of fun but I could almost always be found in that garage. My love for working on my race car was genuine. I wanted to make a name for myself in the racing industry at the highest ranks. I wanted to win races and get paid to do it. I knew I didn’t have what it took to be a driver at that level. But I knew I was a damn good mechanic.
I had just turned 21 years old and this dream of mine was becoming a hobby and not a career. FAST. Armed with that belief, MY ENTIRE LIFE CHANGED. Literally, 24 hours later I had every tool I owned, some clothes, 1500 bucks and my black lab loaded up in my pick up truck. I was moving RIGHT NOW to Charlotte, North Carolina the hub of NASCAR. I had absolutely ZERO things lined up but I was on my way! Sounds exciting right? This life of dream chasing? Yes it is. But it doesn’t come without sacrifice.
Be prepared to sacrifice a large portion of your immediate gratification on your quest for a dream. I found this part to be so tricky. I FOUND MY “PASSION” constantly on the scale of “is this worth my happiness.” That answer is up to you. For me it was, I was content to sacrifice the things that made me happy right now for the potential of my future.
My quick decision to be a full fledged dream chaser came with both excitement and a lot of change. I knew this quest needed my undivided attention. My head and my heart had to be in Charlotte. Leaving my parents was truly hard. I lived with them, worked with them. They were and still are my best friends.
Driving sprint cars also had to change. I knew I couldn’t live in North Carolina and drive race cars in Central Pennsylvania. Driving race cars wasn’t getting me to where I wanted to be and recognizing that was hard.
One other thing had to change. The BOYFRIEND. 21 years old. What a funny age. One half of my brain felt that I had my entire life laid out ahead of me. THE WORLD IS MY OYSTER. But the other half of my brain felt differently. I had a countdown clock on love. Perhaps, this is why my decision to move to North Carolina was so QUICK. I didn’t want to give my emotions enough time to sabotage my dream and turn all of this all in to a sad love story.
I sat across from him and told him what I was about to do. It hurt. My throat swelled and talking was nearly impossible as I saw my dream was crushing his. He was a GREAT GUY. He loved me. He had goals for us. We both loved racing. He worked on my racecar. His dreams involved me. And his dreams certainly didn’t involve me living 10 hours away. The life he had planned wasn’t enough for me. Certainly not at 21. I didn’t need the distractions of a long distance relationship while I was trying to build a demanding career. As I walked away I remember thinking “and this was the day I decided to be alone for the rest of my life.” Goodness I was EMOTIONAL in my twenties!
So here we are sacrificing. For the HOPE of a dream. I had no job, no plan, not even a place to live and I was dropping bombs on my happiness and the happiness of people I loved. At least that’s how I felt. In my experience relationships and hobbies were the sacrificial lamb on the alter of my career. The dream had to come first. I wasn’t capable of giving 100 percent of myself to my career with all of this other stuff looming about.
If you are going to dream so big that the dream demands all of your attention, I challenge you to share that same faith that love and friendships will also work out. You CAN have both when the situation is right .And maybe the right kind of love will meet you early on in your journey, enrich you and stoke the fire of the person you are aspiring to be. It just didn’t happen for me that way. I needed to be alone. Once I got to where I was going, friends, family and love were there. I lived my dream and someone, the RIGHT someone was there waiting for me.
Be vigilant and sacrifice anything that robs your focus. Love and life doesn’t have to be baby-sat they will take care of themselves. Go after you dreams!
Be Prepared To Hear, No. A LOT.
My first interview came a few months after I arrived in Charlotte. I was knocking on doors and asking for a job. It was an awful, uncomfortable feeling but I knew that was my only shot at getting in the door. I offered to clean parts, sweep floors, whatever the team needed. I just wanted to learn. That was the day that I learned that my road was going to be a lot harder than I had planned. He told me that he had no intentions of hiring a female to work on his race cars and that my “dynamic is just an added worry”. My heart sank. My shoulders sagged. I knew I wasn’t getting the job. Actually, I was willing to work for free so it wasn’t even a job! I got denied the task of donating my time. He told me that I should seek a career in marketing or public relations, positions that are commonly held by females. But my goal wasn’t to be a part of a race team. My goal was to make a name for myself as a mechanic in the industry. I had a desire to watch the bolts and pieces of a race car that I built, win races. I didn’t want to write about it! I didn’t care if it was uncommon for a female to hold that position.
To say I was crushed would be an understatement not because I expected to get hired on my first attempt but because suddenly there was a hurdle that I hadn’t even considered. I went back to my apartment and I folded my bed out of the wall Yes out of the wall. Listen. I could do dishes and lay in bed at the same time. Chasing dreams is not glamorous. I slept for like 18 hours straight. I finally wrestled myself out of bed the next day. I walked in to my bathroom and on my mirror I had written a list of race teams to apply at. I grabbed my Sharpie and crossed that race team off of the list. And that was the last time I thought about that meeting. There was something very therapeutic about crossing that race team off of my mirror. I remember thinking “They can’t all say no” as I looked at the rest of the list. I believe in that moment my career was saved because I believed one would eventually say “yes." I’ve successfully avoided speaking about this hurdle in my career for a very long time. I never wanted to even acknowledge it because to me, it didn’t deserve a mention. When I was writing this for all of you, I knew that tonight I wanted to be more real with you. Because hearing things like this, could really derail your plans.
I hope you never face this type of blatant wrong in your career, but I promise you will experience your own B.S. No is hard to hear whether it is because of your qualifications or your gender. Some things are just plain wrong. And some things just simply don’t work out. You must remain focused on the goal and move on.
When things get tossed in your path, it’s helpful to have something telling you what to do next. I found it hard to be proactive when, my spirits were low. So don’t go to sleep for 18 hours and dwell on your “dynamic.” Like I did.
Make lists. Lists of plans, lists of angles to try, lists of goals. When they fail cross it off and move on. Don’t sit on it. Don’t dwell on it. And certainly don’t start lying to yourself. It’s yours for the taking, go get it.
Embrace Your Fear
I finally got my first “yes” on my 4th interview. Like 18 months later.. It didn’t get easier from there. I am being completely honest when I tell you that for the 13 years that I was in the trenches of my career, I was scared. Fear is a very real part of chasing your dreams.
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.” That’s real talk.
Prepare to be scared, nervous and uncomfortable. If you choose to embrace the fear that you feel, it will be your biggest source of motivation. The fear that I felt propelled me out of bed on the days that I felt the least inspired. It drove me in ways that nothing else could: Fear of having to ask for help to lift a transmission drove me in to the gym at 4am. I was afraid of being the last to meet the car on pit road when we would do plug checks, so I was running hill sprints and intervals to get faster. Worrying if I got a bolt tight on the race car had me learning torque specs, keeping notes and finding processes that would put those worries at bay and build confidence in my work so I could actually sleep at night.
I was constantly asked “Why don’t you ever smile” and the truth is, I couldn’t smile because I was scared out of my mind! Fear is good. Fear is your fuel. Use it. And you will push above your own limits. Don’t let it paralyze you.
Ironically, my big break in the industry would come at Kentucky Speedway, with the words “You work harder than any one on that race team. We’d like to try to get you over here with us.”
You hear that?
I was offered a job at Chip Ganassi Racing because of my work ethic and my reputation. I wasn’t told that they would like to try to see if my “dynamic” would fit in to their group. I would go on to win a bunch of races with Chip and his organization both in the United States and abroad. All of that was everything I hoped it would be but it paled in comparison to the elation I felt that day in Sparta, Kentucky. You may not be unique to the environment that you choose for your career, but you will have obstacles. And I believe to combat those obstacles you will have to sacrifice, you will have to persevere when you hear “no” and you will have to work harder and be better at your job than anyone else.
Somehow, I figured these things out. I sacrificed, I worked and I saw my dreams come to fruition in ways that I didn’t even imagine were possible. 13 years later I am happy, fulfilled professionally and in love. It was all worth it.
And here with this letter, I begin the pursuit f my next goal. I want my career to inspire you and remind you that your dream isn’t just about YOU, it’s about US. I believe if you have the gift of passion you must pursue it. Not just for you but for other women. We are seeing a big change for women right now in the business world and the role you play in it is up to you. Being loud and speaking out about sexism and discrimination in my profession was never for me. I believe my call to duty in this quest was to be a worker and achieve for women.
After my first year in Charlotte, I knew that the NASCAR garage area wasn’t ready for me. I never saw another female with tools in her hands.
I pressed on but I made certain that my work ethic muted the sight of my ponytail. And I made sure that my dedication muffled the pitch of my voice. I didn’t want to be anything but Good At My Job. And I was.
On my last day as a road mechanic in the NASCAR Cup Series, I looked down pit road and saw WOMEN. They were on pit boxes as engineers, in the garage as tire specialists and under cars as mechanics. One by one they are coming. And they have respect. Earned respect. Consider the effect that EARNED RESPECT has on our culture. If you go in to a situation and you aren’t respected, but you demand that respect through words. What happens? Jobs are probably threated and you likely get respect or at very least less out-spoken negativity. That’s great, for you. But, if you go in to a situation and you earn the respect what happens? Maybe you change a long instilled mindset. That’s great, for us. Lets dig deeper.. A male co-worker has an attitude with you because you got the job that a male should have gotten. He doesn’t respect you. But you keep your head down and day by day you earn his respect. Maybe he goes home with a different attitude about women.. and maybe that changes his sons perspective on women. You see? Is it fair that we have to earn this. Nope. It sure isn’t. But focusing on that does absolutely nothing for progression.
So I challenge you to speak if you want to speak but also consider a different route. Be the success story. Be the inspiration to the next generation. MAKE YOUR OWN BREAKS. Be a trailblazer.
Infiltrate the system even if it isn’t ready for you.