“Whenever I was afraid to do something, that meant I had to do it.” Bam. Takes 3 seconds to say. Changed my whole life. I feel like I hear these words all of the time now, but the first time I heard them was in my 10th grade French class. Or at least that was the first time I was really paying attention to them. My teacher had just finished describing her 5-month backpacking trip through Europe in the ’80’s and this final sentiment would stick with me for as long as she probably hoped it would. It was then and there that I decided I too was going to make a similar trip as soon as I graduated from college. Eight years later, there I was, strapping on my backpack in the Milan airport, ready to explore what would end up being the first of 62 cities.
I tell this story about my French teacher because it shows the power of words and their impact on a life. As a natural-born introvert, excursions like these did not come to me automatically and definitely not easily. I had to fight my natural instinct to stay put and do what was comfortable. But alongside my introversion, there has always been a stronger voice inside of me telling me to do it, not despite but because of my fear of the daunting and unknown road ahead.
Ultimately I didn’t just backpack through Europe; I did so much more. I spent my first year after high school living in a small town in Transylvania, studied abroad in Athens, took part in an archaeological dig off the coast of the Black Sea, studied German in Dresden, the list goes on. And every time I would tell myself, “I’m afraid. This is uncomfortable. I have to do it.” And truth be told, by the time my backpacking trip began, the fear was barely more than a pinprick (we’re not talking plane rides here though, that’s a whole other situation, come on). Plus a friend and my iPhone were by my side to stomp out any straggling nerves I had about getting lost, always a bonus. My life would be very different had I not been really listening that day in class.
So, there’s something to this “discomfort” thing. What are we capable of when we lean into the anxiety and fear? When we do the very thing my teacher did? What do we miss out on when we let fear take control? I think of all the things I would have missed if I hadn’t told fear to shove off (Ex. “Thanks for the warning but I’m not interested. Shove off.”). And It doesn’t just have to do with traveling; any change can be frightening. Quitting a job, asking him/her out, showing your “before” pictures when you decide to lose the weight. Anything that forces us to grow begins with discomfort, like growing pains for the mind. So I’m passing my teacher’s message along. What are you afraid of? You’re capable. Go do it.
Sidenote: Please don’t walk down any dark alleys alone at 2am or drive into a tornado to see what it’s like inside. This is NOT that.
Gower Peninsula in Wales. If I had listened to my fear, this photo never would have been taken. That’s sad.