PSYCH OUT: Julia Landauer
Psych Out is an ongoing series on the topic of fear & creativity.
In response to many of our readers expressing that fear often blocked their creative flow, Seymour asked a variety of entrepreneurs and artists to share their experience in their own words. Discover how they get over anxiety and self-doubt and find the strength to move forward with their projects.
JULIA LANDAUER is a 2-time championship-winning racecar driver from New York City, currently racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Before moving to North Carolina, Julia graduated from Stanford University in 2014, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Science, Technology, and Society. Julia uses her active, engaging, and enthusiastic personality to continue advocating for STEM education, women’s empowerment, and for following your dreams despite the hurdles.
Fear: A Driver, Not an Inhibitor
By Julia Landauer
I chose to pursue a professional racing career because of its incredible highs. It’s intoxicating: the thrill of going fast, the pride in mastering a racecar’s capabilities, the accomplishment in quickly learning a new track, and the satisfaction in working exceptionally hard to achieve success. Being the centerpiece of the team and inspiring the crew to go all out is empowering. And most importantly, the euphoric feeling of winning gets me every time.
I’ve raced competitively since I was 10 years old. Over the 14 years of my career, one of the most common questions I’m asked about racing is, “Aren’t you scared?”
Usually when asking this, the person is wondering if I’m scared of going fast or of crashing. And the quick answer is yes. Racing is undoubtedly nerve-wracking. We manipulate 3,400-pound machines around a racetrack within centimeters of other machines at speeds of more than 130 miles per hour. Sometimes a driver will push the limit too far and accidentally hit other cars, which causes unpredictable outcomes, such as a spin that can’t be saved or hitting the wall.
Sweat is dripping down your chest and forehead. You’re drenched in your firesuit. Your cheeks are squeezed into your helmet and your gloved hands grip the steering wheel. Your 6-point seat belt has you strapped tightly into the seat of a racecar, so tightly that you can just barely breathe. You’re going full throttle down the straight-away, faster and faster. The car is vibrating and you feel it in the steering wheel, in the gas pedal. Even though you have radio earbuds in, you hear the engine roaring.
You pass the start/finish line and get closer to Turn 1. In less than a second you lift off the gas pedal and put your left foot on the brake pedal. You hit the brakes harder at first, then progressively release after the weight shifts to the front of the car. With the nose planted, you turn in and feel the rotation of the racecar. You’re using all of your core and arm strength to turn and hold the car down at the apex. The rear slides out a little, but you correct it by counter steering, and you let the car roll forward. As you unwind the steering wheel, you simultaneously accelerate out of the corner. You drive up towards the wall and just before you hit it, you stop turning out, go in a straight line, full throttle down the straight-away once again.
That’s just a glimpse of what it’s like.
When I was 16, my axel snapped coming out of a turn. Axels aren’t supposed to snap. I was slingshot into the outside wall at 80 mph, the front of the car crumbled, and a piece of metal jabbed my knee. EMT medics lifted me out of the car, and sent me to the ambulance. I was lucky to walk away.
And the cars keep getting faster! In 2015 I raced in a NASCAR series where my racecar’s engine had 325 horsepower. This year, my engine has 650 horsepower. Twice the power on half-mile oval tracks makes a huge difference in how the car handles and how it responds to adverse situations.
The days leading up to my first race in 2016 had me nervous, but not worried. There were so many unknowns: what the sheer speed would be like, how well the brakes would work, how the equipment would wear throughout the race, what the other racers’ driving styles were like, how difficult it would be to correct the car if it got out of shape. What would happen if I hit the wall? What would happen if someone hit me?
My coach and team owner tried to explain what it would be like, but I knew that I would just have to experience it to fully understand what I was getting into. For someone who does thorough research before most endeavors, I was in a situation that made me very uncomfortable.
Even with the highs I experience with racing, I always have butterflies before a race. At this point in my career I know that if I don’t have a knot in my stomach before I go out on track for qualifying or a race, then I’m missing some of my edge.
The thrill and joy of racing are why I race, while the nerves and excitement help me to excel. Embracing the discomfort can be a catalyst in persevering.
Just like any creative endeavor, perseverance in racing is key. Racing’s extreme highs are countered by devastating lows. Every race has a single winner and dozens of losers. Parts on the car break when they’re not supposed to. Long stretches of time without a win happen to everyone.
My first time racing on ovals (all left turns) as opposed to road courses (which turn left and right) was very challenging. The driving style is different and the cars handle differently. I was so focused on going fast right away and impressing my new team owner. But in that tunnel vision, with my focus on the results, I drove the car too hard and counterproductively. I missed my turn-in points, hit the brakes too hard, upset the balance of the car, and had inconsistent lap times. I got frustrated that it wasn’t coming together and that made me nervous. I failed to be methodical and analytical about how to get faster.
After my last practice session, my mother saw my frustration and how it was hurting my performance. After I finished speaking with my team owner, my mother came up to me. In a simple, matter-of-fact manner, she said, “Hit your marks, just make sure you’re at the right part of the track doing the right things with the pedals and steering, and piece each step together.”
Hit your marks. Hit your marks.
She had a point. All too easily, focusing on the outcome can bog me down; while keeping my eyes on the prize is important, a fixation on it will detract from the process. And without a solid process and precise steps taken, I’ll never reach my goals.
That refocusing is where I find I have the most control.
The physical driving isn’t the scariest part of being a professional racer. The scarier and more challenging things for me are more abstract: I’m scared of not making it. I’m unsure of what it will be like to be thrown into the public eye. There are times when I still get nervous about pitching myself to companies for sponsorship since so much is on the line.
But my desire to beat the odds is far stronger than my fear.
To reassure and refocus myself, I regularly assess several things:
- If I’m not seeing results, could I be doing more?
- If I’m debating whether or not to try something, I ask myself, “why not?”
- When one of my efforts gains traction, how can I do tangentially related things to keep the momentum going?
Being scared doesn’t have to inhibit me. Instead, acknowledging my fear and deciding to use it, and then destroy it, is empowering. Jumping in head-first forces me to come up with a solution. It doesn’t have to be the best solution, but it will be at least a stepping-stone.
I just keep reminding myself to hit my marks, one at a time.
For my races earlier this year, I’ve figured out the proper line first, then worked on going full throttle out of the corners as soon as possible, then worked on braking later into the corner, then worked on rolling speed through the corner. With that process, I’ve been able to get up to speed just as quickly as my competitors. I’ve made lists with concrete tasks to help with sponsorship outreach, PR, and fan engagement via social media. When thinking about the big picture becomes too much to effectively handle, I break it down into steps. From there, I can tackle it, even if it’s difficult.
We are in control of how we choose to think. We are in control of what we focus on. Molding our minds work in our favor is crucial for staying on track and finding success.
Photo by Jason Christley/NASCAR
Published: May 12th, 2016