When I bought my gravel bike it came equipped with “tubeless” tires. Even though I had ridden plenty of miles by that point, I had no idea what tubeless tires were. (For the non-cyclists reading this post, knowing what tubeless tires are is irrelevant to the rest of the story.) So, when I needed to have my tire changed earlier this week, of course I was unfamiliar with how to do it. I spent a while watching instructional YouTube videos and started to grasp the basic concepts, but because it was my first time and I didn’t have the right equipment, I took my bike to the shop to get the new tire put on properly.
I have always been intimidated by other cyclists and insecure about how little I know about bikes in comparison. The first time I changed a flat tire by myself it took me almost three hours (to be fair, I later learned that my tubes were particularly difficult to remove from my tire). I have spent many hours sitting on the floor rewinding instructional YouTube videos on my laptop in futile attempts to adjust parts of my bike.
When I arrived at the shop and told the bike mechanic I needed help mounting my new tire he rolled his eyes. “Sure. What kind of tape do you want?” he asked patronizingly. When he thought I was out of earshot I heard him say to his colleague, “Ha, she didn’t even know what kind of tape she wanted.”
I meekly watched as he changed the tire; I was eager to learn so that I could do it myself next time, but all I could think about was how shameful and stupid I felt. I thought back to a time in college when I had asked a question in a grad-level math class and some PhD dude in the front row turned around with an “are you serious?” look on his face, making sure I knew he had turned around just to see who could have asked such a stupid question.
I didn’t ask questions in math lectures after that. My grades suffered but I convinced myself it was better to be stupid in secret than risk being so in public.
Looking back on the math class and my experience at the bike shop I am filled with anger and frustration both at myself and at those men. Why hadn’t I been secure enough to be OK with the fact that I didn’t know everything? Why hadn’t I been strong enough to keep showing up and asking questions even when I felt judged by others? Why are there people who need to put others down in order to feel superior? How many people have been dissuaded – myself included – from an interest or passion because others made them feel they weren’t worthy of it?
On the other hand, I find myself filled with gratitude for the many people who have not made me feel that way: the cyclists I have met (you know who you are!) who are patient with me when I ask a question to which I should already know the answer, the TA who never rolled her eyes when I showed up week after week to her Office Hours, the boss who encouraged me to make mistakes and let my voice be heard. If it hadn’t been for those people I probably would have stopped cycling a long time ago or decided not to pursue the math degree with which I graduated.
How can I be a person who never makes another feel inadequate? How can I be open and welcoming and non-judgmental of other “beginners” when I am the “expert”? How can I encourage others rather than tear them down? We all have to start somewhere.
Last night I sat reading on the couch next to Thomas. I came across a passage in my book that described a disease with which I was unfamiliar; I asked him how it operated and what the symptoms were. Apparently these were answers I should have known because, before he answered my questions, he said, “Are you serious?”
Immediately my mind went to, “Why did you ask that, you should have just Googled it and avoided yourself the embarrassment.” I almost responded by saying, “No, nevermind, I misread the passage.” But – in a moment of bravery and resilience sparked by my earlier reflections – I said, “Yes, I’m serious. I don’t know and I asked so that, in the future, I can know.”
One small step for Maddy…one giant step for refusing to perpetuate the cycle of shame!!!!!
P.S. The best part of my bike shop anecdote is that, as I was biking home from the shop with my new tire…it deflated. Turns out Mr. Condescending had not mounted it properly and I had to get it redone by someone else.