It’s a common assumption that men are better with directions than women. While some studies may support this, it’s crazy how much this limits the confidence of women with direction. Whenever I talk about how I recently traveled alone, many women have told me, “I could never do that! I’m so bad with directions!” Some people may be born with an innate sense of direction, but navigation is a skill that can be learned by anyone with practice.
As a traveler, of course I want all people to feel confident enough to travel, but I especially fear when women don’t dare to take the risk of learning navigation skills simply because they grow up being told that women are bad with directions.
In a recent study published on NPR, girls as young as six years old are less likely to think that women can be really smart. Not everyone can be brilliant, but confidence is not innate. Confidence is a skill that is built from small actions over time. If young girls don’t think that they can identify with being really smart, then what do they think they can do?
When I studied abroad in Rome, we were told that the best way to see the city was by getting lost. For someone who had only explored Chicago with Google Maps open at all times, this was intimidating. What if I got lost? What if I didn’t have Uber to my rescue? What if I couldn’t figure out the map?
The first night we went out, a few of us got lost on the way home and couldn’t figure out the buses. I recall one moment when a car did a U-turn, seeming to view us as prey, and we all panicked for a bit. We soon realized we were paranoid, and looking like victims would only make us more susceptible to being victims. We made it home just fine, and after that, I loved getting lost in Rome, exploring every beautiful alley.
I kept this same mindset in Chicago, especially with running. I saw each run as a new opportunity to explore a different street or neighborhood. If I wanted to make myself feel confident in running, I had to take small risks. If I did get a little lost, I always managed to find my way. If I got really lost, there is always offline maps with GPS to help you even when you don’t have wifi.
When traveling in other cities and countries, especially solo, I make sure I study maps before I arrive, so that I am somewhat familiar with the main streets and overall layout. Before I run, I map a potential running route. It’s most fun when I accidentally veer off-path, but I am always able to find my way home, even if it takes some time and extra observation.
As a small town girl who grew up only driving on a few streets, I definitely was not born with a good sense of direction. Still, I wanted to feel confident enough to travel on my own, so I practiced and practiced until I was able to navigate on my own. Each adventure builds onto my confidence, and I am increasingly able to try new things and new adventures.
I’ve learned to never be afraid of accomplishing anything
on my own and to never be afraid of conquering my fears. There’s nothing I can’t do, and I hope that you all are able to build your own confidence as well.
++ Mary K