On Fear

I had a mild freak out to my sister the other day. She thinks I’m brave, but I feel like a coward in comparison to her and the bold life she leads. She’s a teacher in Kathmandu, Nepal, and has been for the past 2 1/2 years. In that same time I have gone from a farm in Spain to an apartment in Massachusetts, to a hostel in Kauai, to a house in Seattle. This is why she thinks I’m brave. But after we parted ways on the Camino she set off for her new life in Nepal, alone and with no idea what awaited her.

Now, more than two years later, I find myself in a similar place. Only I have her example and advice to learn from, and I’m still freaking out about leaving. I’m terrified about it. What if I hate Thailand? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I can’t figure out how to order food in Thai and end up starving to death? What if I get eaten by a giant snake? What if, what if..

There are plenty of things to be scared about. And I’m genuinely frightened of most of them. But despite all of that and all of the uncertainties that await me, I don’t think that’s what I’m most afraid of. It’s the blank slate that awaits me and the possibility of what my life could become from here on out. In her book A Return to Love Marianne Williamson said,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

At first glance that quote seems to say why are you afraid of letting people know how awesome you are? And maybe it is a little. But what I took from it was more the significance of doing what I feel I’m meant to be doing. I have tried to be happy with a traditional life (or something close) for a long time now, and I hate it. There have been a lot of awesome parts of my life and I have made some amazing friends, but I feel I am doomed to perpetual dissatisfaction if I don’t make a drastic change soon.

As I’ve been planning for Thailand I have been reading a lot of blogs and articles written by semi-permanent travelers. They took one bold move to change the direction of their lives and never looked back. And you can tell, you can see it in their writing, their photos, the passion that fills their lives. Their lifestyles are not easier or better than anyone else’s, but because they are following their passion, they exude something so contagious. In the words of Marianne Williamson, they are letting their light shine, breaking through their fear, and in the process they inspire hundreds of people to do the same.

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist. -Oscar Wilde

I’ve been inspired by blogs I’ve read like A Little AdriftOne Step 4 WardLegal Nomads and dozens of others. Maybe they were never afraid…it’s possible that they’re all just fearless unemotional cylons. But that seems unlikely. More likely, they were terrified when their journeys began. But they put that fear aside in order to obtain the life they wanted. And in doing so have allowed so many others to be liberated from their fear as well.

People who know me often think that because I’ve traveled a lot and moved 15+ times nothing really fazes me anymore. Oh you’re moving to Thailand? I could never do that, but that sounds right up your alley. You’re so lucky you’re not scared of being adventurous.

News flash, guys: I’M TERRIFIED.

But I’m also 26 and not terribly satisfied with my life. So I’m not about to let a little soul crushing fear stop me from going after the life I want. And if someday that helps someone else escape their fear as well, then I’d say it’s worth it.
I have a tattoo on my foot that says “senza paura.” When Kate and I studied abroad in Italy years ago we used to say it to each other all the time. It means literally “without fear.” It was our daily encouragement to each other to be fearless. Afraid to talk to that guy? Senza paura. Afraid to speak Italian to the locals? Senza paura. Afraid to eat that entire cake in one sitting? Senza paura. (I was pretty good at conquering that last one.)

Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

-Jack Canfield

The tattoo is not there because I do not have fear. It is there because I am afraid of almost everything. It is a reminder that fear only has as much power as you give it. A reminder to have the strength to overcome those fears.

And in case you think I’m exaggerating my level of scaredy-catness, here is a short list of some of my biggest fears I’ve faced and overcome at least once.

Heights (took up rock climbing)
Snakes (had a panic attack, then touched one)
Sharks (watched jaws and swam in the ocean anyway)
Deep water (became a kayak guide on Lake Michigan)
Milk (drank milk. And don’t even start with me about that one. Milk is all kinds of weird and freaky ok)
Outer space (ok I haven’t conquered this one yet. thank god that’s not a reasonable fear)
Spiders (lived in a state park in Arkansas riddled with brown recluses. Made a lot of creepy new shower buddies that year)
Public speaking (spoke in public. Babam.)
Dental issues/anything involving teeth other than just having them. Having them is ok. (Lost 2 1/2 teeth and spent months having them fall out and be replaced.)
Needles (thanks meningitis, exposure therapy really worked for that one)
Permanence (stayed put for 15 months. Does that count?)

And about a hundred other things. So if I can do all that, what’s a little move across the globe, right?

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?

-Erin Hanson

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