Lesa Knollenberg
freelance writer in
madison, wi

I Got This


There’s a phrase I try to avoid at all costs:

“You got this.”

The few times I’ve said it to myself, it was almost instantaneous disaster.

The first time, I was a young college transfer student, completely alone in an unfamiliar town. My parents were on their way to their own new town, and were in the middle of their own adventure. On the way, they set me up in my first apartment, and since this was the days before cell phones or internet (think Cagney and Lacey-era), this would be a lengthy separation. They had serious misgivings about leaving me alone, but dropped me off with faith, grocery money, and my bike, and I assured them I could do the rest.

After they left, I got on my bike and toured the town. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so autonomous, so free, so proud of myself for pursuing something scary and raw. I can still remember the streets I cycled down and the neighborhoods I explored, looking for a grocery store to get a couple of days’ worth of food to cram in my backpack.

These were the days before bike helmets (see Cagney and Lacey reference above) so my hair truly blew in the wind. I felt strong. I felt capable. “I got this,” I told myself, a new girl in a new town with flowing hair and a promising future. And then I hit a pothole, flipped over my handlebars, and knocked myself out. When I regained consciousness, I looked up at a circle of strangers who gently helped me up, took me to the hospital and later, fixed my bike. The hospital staff set my broken arm, and were sympathetic when I burst into tears because my parents didn’t have a phone yet, I wasn’t exactly sure where I lived, and had to walk home in the blistering heat with a newly issued cast. Oh, and a sticker on my sling that said “I WAS BRAVE TODAY!” I walked until I found my apartment, locked the door, and consoled myself with ice water and books for the rest of the night. Although it turns my mother’s stomach every time I tell this story, it remains one of my proudest moments, ever.

The other time I used the phrase “I got this” was as a naïve young mother. Hubby traveled for weeks at a time, and I was foolishly left in charge of our two boys, both charming and sneaky. This time Hubby was in the Netherlands, so we hadn’t talked to him much, and I was living the single mom life (which is much, much tougher than I realized. My hat is off to anybody who has walked that rocky path.)

I was feeling a little cocky that I was able to both shower and give the little “pirates” breakfast that day. As I dried my hair, I looked in the mirror, gave myself the proverbial pat on the back and used the dangerous phrase. Girl, you got this. When I got downstairs, Son B was sweaty and down to his diaper, and Son A was beside himself with giggles and a side of anxiety. Neither would tell me what happened, and we had to get Son A to school. When we got home, my neighbor was doubled over in laughter, telling me that she saw the little one sneak out to the sidewalk and race the school bus full of cheering kids up the street. After he lost the race, he ran back home and landed in his seat, with dirty feet and a clueless mother.

So I don’t say “I got this” anymore. It’s a sure sign that something crazy is around the corner. I like challenging myself and confronting my limitations, but the minute I start to feel confident, I get a little nervous. I mention this as a warning: I’m starting all sorts of new adventures these days, and am required to kindle my courage daily. I like where I’m heading, but if you ever hear me say “I got this,” stay a safe distance.