It´s often the little things that are my undoing.
From the moment I walked into the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem´s Old City at age 12, I knew that travel was ´´IT´´ for me. The first place prize I won at school for my Holocaust museum essay still fills me with pride. When I celebrated the end of high school by spontaneously driving the entire length of I-95 along the eastern United States, I thought ´´how great would it be to do this for a living?´´ And while I flung my cap in the air to celebrate the completion of my university journalism degree, my real tribute came in the form of three months spent traipsing across Australia.
The logical thing would have been to pursue a career in something travel writing-related. This was before the Internet, before Facebook and Twitter, before travel blogs. Instead, I was lured out from down-under by my first real job in New York. Stable. Good pay. Health insurance. These were the words I used to convince myself to return home.
Over the next 20 years I agonized over how to best utilize the measly two-week vacation allotted to me each year. I hated the feeling of being rushed through a culture, without time to savor the customs or properly sample the sweets. Sure, there were a few opportunities for longer travels when I was leaving one job for another. One month in India. Thirty days to travel through Vietnam.
But it wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to travel MY way as a reward or transition. I wanted it to be THE way, always.
Why couldn’t I just change my mind about my life?
A million reasons: What would my father say? How would I pay my bills? Wouldn’t my time be better spent searching for a husband? And what about kids?
These were insurmountable obstacles. Goliaths that I would never be able to fell with the little stones in my arsenal. And they instilled a fear in me.
Fear of failure, fear of disapproval, fear of wanting something different than ´´the norm,´´ fear of not being understood by others. And that fear fed on itself for the next two decades, while I became a workaholic, barely putting a dent in my debt, never finding a man I wanted to marry or have children with and failing to make the people in my life understand why I wanted to live abroad and travel, instead of sit trapped in an office day after day.
Then, I started reading about other people´s courage to make major changes in their lives, to do what they wanted no matter what others thought. And their courage and ideas seeped into my subconscious, chipping away at the Goliath until he was broken into smaller, separate nuggets. They were still scary, but not as much as when they had banded together against me. Without realizing it, I started to build my own army against Fear.
Without a real PLAN, I quietly started saving tiny bits of money. I enrolled in an English teacher certificate class so I could work abroad. I told myself I wasn’t actually DOING anything, just exploring the MAYBES, because what if I didn’t like traveling alone for one year or more? What if I ran out of money? What if, what if, what if?
But that was Fear talking. So I told him if I didn’t like being alone for one year, I would travel for less time. If I ran out of money, I would work to make more. Fear said I would starve when I ran out of money or ruin my credit when I couldn’t pay my bills. I worried he might be right, but I didn’t tell him that. I just carried on. Until I realized…
Fear was bluffing.
He was taking all of the little details I liked to gnaw over and mashing them into one big THING, when in reality they were little things I could address one by one. The only legitimate fear I had faced was making the actual decision to do anything at all. Everything else was just details.
So, I looked Fear in the face… and flipped him the bird.
He tried to gather up all the details to intimidate me. I told him that while I respected his advice I didnt have time for a chat.
The next day I gave my boss my notice. I felt physically ill. I had debt to pay off! Who gives up a good-paying job in this economy?
I do, apparently.
That conversation was a blur. But I remember walking out and feeling 30 pounds lighter.
I fed my dad bits of my plan piece by piece, rather than dumping the entire thing on him at once. And up until the day I left, he still had questions and skepticism. The distance has made me realize he just misses and worries about me, and sometimes I feel guilty about being far from my family and friends.
Then I remind myself what I learned the day I stood up to Fear:
I can always change my mind.
There are no rules.
If something doesn’t work out, I can return home or go someplace else.
Nobody knows what is right for me more than I do.
No decision needs to be permanent.
Don’t let the little details of life be your undoing.
Today I live in Brazil with my boyfriend, whom I coincidentally met not long before I left. I teach English and write about my travels, living abroad, crazy wildlife and other stuff. I traveled for three months – by myself – through South America and it was glorious. More trips are in the works. Despite my drastic self-imposed pay cut, I´m still able to continue paying my bills. And even though I sometimes work more hours than I ever did in New York, I don’t feel half as stressed. I still worry and feel afraid about a lot of things. The difference is that now, I can face it.
Fear isn’t the only who knows how to bluff.
This post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.
“Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow.” Australian Associated Press
“… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams.” Nomadicmatt.com
“In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction.” Courier Mail