If you’ve already belly-flopped off the diving board and survived, then why are you so nervous now?
A constant phrase that pops up in advice columns is that “the first step is always the hardest.” True.
But what about the second step?
Traveling and living abroad is something I’ve always wanted to do. In my youth, I spent countless hours fantasizing about taking a train to Marrakech, backpacking through Europe and living as a writer abroad. I’ve done all those things and more. I loved it. Now that my options are open once again, why am I suddenly paralyzed with fear? Instead of being invigorated by all my past adventures, I find myself feeling older than my 24 years. I long for the person I once was. Sleeping in haphazardly built tents, living with three cracked-out male prostitutes in San Francisco, and flipping coins to figure out my next destination was the norm for the former version of myself. Heck, the more dangerous, unplanned and insecure, the better. But now I cower. I’ve lived and traveled in most of the places I had imagined as a dreamy teenager as well and in some that I never expected but had come to love. So why am I worrying so much about financial security and sticking to a career plan, if it never really mattered before? Why is my mind turning every opportunity into an obstacle with its own accompanying hazards and pitfalls? Why can’t I risk anything after I’ve already given up everything to get here? Why does the unknown seem even more menacing after I’ve already conquered it?
Maybe what’s so different is that I never had any kind of “fear” in me before. I was blissfully clueless to the harsh realities of the world. Until I left school, I never knew what it meant to have $2 in your bank account or wonder if the cops were going to bust down the door. I suppose it also has something to do with the fact that in the last few months in Berlin, I’ve become somewhat settled. For the first time in my life, living in this German capital, my world has remained relatively calm. I put my life on pause. I stopped trying to make the world spin faster. I learned what it was like to not want, but to just be.
But now…I want to want again. It’s as though I’ve become so chill and Zen that I’ve forgotten how to dream. Or maybe it’s just the mind’s way of dealing with shock. Maybe there is such a thing as sensory overload or “travel trauma.” In trying to figure out why living fearlessly has suddenly become a hurdle, I began to reflect on the how I got to where I am now. I realized that in less than two years, I’ve lived in five cities, backpacked through Southeast Asia and Europe, and saw my father die. From the moment I graduated from university, I never looked back–until now. The speed at which everything had happened is not a surprise. I had been building momentum since I was a child. Maybe it had something to do with the fact my home was chaotic and as a weird lonely kid, the only friends I had were my books with their stories set in Russia, Bohemia and in the Middle East. There was nothing I wanted more than to feel free. I later discover National Geographic and Globe Trekker, which gave me visual clues as to exactly what kind of freedom I wanted. I wanted to burst out from the media-dominated, pressure-infused, materialism-oriented bubble that society kept telling me was important. I demanded independence from archaic ideas and mainstream values. I raged at the empty sky, like the howling dog in Bellow’s “The Dean’s December,” and screamed: “For God’s sake, open the universe a little more!”
Like a racehorse kicking at the gates, I blasted out and ran and ran until I couldn’t even keep myself upright. I fell over.
I let myself stay down. For awhile.
Now, I cry out to no one but myself: “For God’s sake, open yourself up to the universe a little more!”
And now I’m off again…