Sometime during these last two years on the road I became someone new. I left the United States a nervous, insecure person whose fear of failure eclipsed her desire for adventure and now I find myself sitting in Australia applying for jobs out of my reach, taking the leap into becoming a full-fledged travel blogger, and loving myself. I don’t know if the travel alone is what did it or if it was a combination of that, growing up, and having the people in my life to support my growth, but somewhere along the way I found my courage.
My first memory of the slow break down of my fear of rejection was in Sweden, my first long term backpacking trip and my first time traveling solo. I had arrived in Sweden a couple of days earlier and was waiting for my friends to arrive to start my adventures. The problem with this plan was that they weren’t due in for a couple of days and I had to be my own best friend until then. By day three I was so lonely that I started watching Netflix in my dorm room, because I was too nervous to ask if anyone wanted to go to the art museum with me.
Luckily, the loneliness was starting to overwhelm the fear of talking to strangers and when I went to dinner that night, I asked a random guy if he wanted to join me. It was a rather serendipitous moment that I will remember for the rest of my life, dragging my downtrodden self into the closest restaurant, asking for a table for one at almost the exact same moment as a young man behind me, realizing there was only one small table for two left, and thinking ‘to hell with it’ before asking if he wanted to join me. To my complete surprise he said yes, we shared a nice meal, and went our separate ways after dinner. It was in that moment of complete lonely despair that I realized the worst thing he could have said was no…and that wasn’t that bad. Thus, it turned out that my savior from myself was to be an 18 year old from Stockholm named Mohammad.
The next big moment in finding my courage came almost two years later, when I had to decide to take a leave of absence from graduate school or not. I have always been the stereotypical perfectionist, I got straight A’s in school, and I cried for hours the first time I got a B. I went to a good university straight out of high school complete with a merit scholarship, graduated with my degree, organized a gap year around a Spanish immersion program that would look good on a medical school application, and planned to apply to medical school during that year off. Then it all changed. I decided I did not want to go to medical school, that a master’s degree in a public health was a better fit for me, and that I wanted more from life than I previously thought possible. When I met Kane during my year off in Guatemala, I had applied for graduate school back in the US and I thought, that while there had been some slight detours, I was still on the path to societal success.
I can’t say when that path became less appealing exactly, maybe it was when I fell in love with traveling early on, maybe it was talking to Kane about a world in which you didn’t have to choose career or travel (Australia), but by the time I had made the move up to Portland for graduate school I knew I needed to be on a different path. My decision to take a leave of absence from school to chase a relationship and a dream was the ultimate leap of faith for me, the perfectionist who had always considered anything like it a failure. In the end, it came down to understanding that failure, as defined by society, is not always failure for the individual. It would have been a personal failure for me to stay in Portland, to never know what could have been, but to the world, to society, that would have been the success story. That success story made me cry myself to sleep.
So, I chose failure, I chose a personal relationship over career advancement, because somewhere along my journey I found the courage I needed to live my life for myself, not anyone else. The journey is not over, not in the slightest, but I find myself happier and more self-assured than I have ever been. I’m not always happy, no one lives their life happy every second of the day, but I trust myself more and I dance around in my room a lot more, because sometimes you feel like celebrating being alive.
Travel has been an important factor for my personal growth, it has forced me out of my comfort zone and into the place where growth is possible. Some people will make it to this point through a different path, but getting to that place of discomfort is necessary for change. It is only in embracing the discomfort and learning that you can survive in many different scenarios, that you will truly learn to trust yourself. Travel is very good at putting us in uncomfortable situations and making us grow. For me it was learning to talk to people without fear of personal rejection, it was dealing with my hatred of crowds to be able to enjoy the colorful markets of Asia, it was learning to trust that I could navigate a foreign metro system, it was accepting that my path is mine alone to shape, and it was finding the courage to step out the door.