Looking my fears in the face – this trestle bridge in BC taught me a lot about courage
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was in the process of making a big decision. This decision has been brewing for a few months, even a few years. Earlier this year I started to realize that I was playing things too safe and being too timid. I had big dreams but wasn’t taking the steps I needed to realize them. I thought about times in my life when I had taken drastic steps and how much that boldness changed me and spurred me on.
For example, when I got home from ten months of traveling, I felt like I could do anything. I had:
- learned a new language, without taking a single formal lesson and went from barely understanding the basics to near fluency
- navigated alone across five countries and 11827 km travelled by bus
- found four indigenous weaving teachers and learned incredibly complex weaving techniques, which most women start learning as small children
- avoided being robbed or attacked in a region where most people would say such things are unavoidable
- did what the locals did – taking minibuses instead of cabs and eating at the market instead of in restaurants
- talked to countless strangers, made friends easily, and developed meaningful, lasting relationships (last summer I went to the wedding of a Columbian friend I had met in Peru)
I felt like I grew up ten years in ten months and felt a sense of confidence and trust in myself that I had never experienced before. I had seen what I was capable of.
Now, four years since returning home, I feel like a lot of that confidence and sureness has dissipated. I feel comfortable and content, which – don’t get me wrong – is really nice. But I definitely don’t feel connected to that “I can do anything” feeling. When I got home, I told myself that I wanted to be fully self-employed within five years. It’s been almost four since I reduced my dayjob hours and started working on art for real. While I’ve made a lot of progress, I’m not anywhere near meeting my goal. Time is running out. I’ve never set a goal like this before and not met it. When I say I’m going to do something, I do it.
While I know that I need to shake things up again, I don’t want to go on another yearlong trip. I don’t have the money for it and my life has changed enough that I don’t feel like running away is the answer this time. Rather, I want to dig my heels in to this life I’ve chosen, to go deeper rather than farther. I still want to step out on a precipice, but this time while still sleeping in my own bed. I want to have my partner by my side and to nurture and develop relationships with people who will stick by me for the long run. I want to find my edge, to embrace discomfort, and not only remind myself of what I’m capable of, but push the limits of capabilities. I want to shatter limiting beliefs and hold steadfastly to a dream that the vision in my mind can be a reality.
When I went to South America, my vision was of myself in a tiny village learning to weave surrounded by mountains and sheep. I found myself living that image within the first two months of the trip. When I put my mind to something, I do it.
So what is the vision this time?
Standing on the precipice
When I started thinking about how I could get back to the traveling mindset without actually traveling, I thought about making a list of scary things to do – things that would push me out of my comfort zone and make me feel stronger and more capable. I started keeping a list and I decided that I would announce it on my birthday and make it a yearlong project.
But when I sat down to write the post outlining the project, I found something else wanted to come out instead. Instead of doing a whole bunch of scary things that might someday help me get closer to my dream, I realized that in fact there was only one truly scary thing that mattered. A big decision, a bold move, an outrageous statement that I’ve spent the last four years tip-toeing around. That thing is:
I want to be a full-time artist by January 2018.
This statement makes me feel so much fear and resistance that it’s a little hard to breathe. Who am I to make such a bold declaration? What makes me think that I can do what so many people have tried and failed to do?
But if I’m honest, I also feel excitement and that familiar sense of focus and drive. Because once the decision has been made, the only thing to do is to get to work. There is no more room for doubt. No more wondering what my next step is and procrastinating or being fearful.
Once the decision has been made, I’m no longer someone ‘working on their business’. I’m a woman on a mission.
A big part of making this decision is realizing that, until now, I have been striving after something that I didn’t really believe was possible. While outwardly saying that I want to make a living as an artist, inwardly I’ve been completely convinced by the societal message that says that it’s too hard to earn a living as an artist and my own self-doubt.
Before I met my partner, I had to overcome the belief that what I wanted in a partner didn’t exist. In a similar way, I had been searching for something that I didn’t actually think was real. As soon as I allowed myself to believe that it was real, I met Matt within a few weeks.
So how do I convince myself that this is possible? That I’m not setting myself up for massive failure? By making a decision. By declaring that this is what I want, more than anything, and that it must be possible, because I don’t believe that our deepest desires can be for things that aren’t possible. As I explained in my post about decision-making, I know that I need to commit before having all the answers. Before seeing a clear path. Before having confidence in myself. Before being acknowledged by the outside world. The only thing that will set me on the path to making it happen is deciding to make it happen.
Here are some things I learned from my travels that I think will help me on this new journey:
- I will say yes way too much. When I was traveling I said yes to everything that came my way (including a powerful psychedelic trip) until I couldn’t possibly open any further. I didn’t say no until I knew where that line was.
- I will surround myself with reminders of my mission. In South America, I wore one bracelet to represent my personal mission of growth and self-realization, and another to represent my goal to learn to weave. I didn’t let anything get in the way of those two goals, including a promising romance. This time I’m thinking of endless sticky notes and colourful quotes in strategic places.
- I will talk to everyone. While traveling, I never gave up an opportunity to find out how someone learned what they knew or how they got to where they were. I told everyone I met what my mission was and found a lot of help along the way.
- I will be awkward and uncomfortable. I will be bad at it. I will keep putting myself forward, no matter how silly it seems. On the trip I had to speak Spanish, no matter how dumb I felt when I couldn’t communicate properly. People laughed at me and condescended and I kept trying because I had no other choice. When it came to weaving, it was so hard at first, but I kept practicing, taking every opportunity that I could to learn. I didn’t give up.
- I will stand out. I will move against the current that wants to wash me away. I will be different and weird and maybe a little bit crazy. In small villages in Peru and Bolivia I felt uncomfortable and awkward about being an outsider. But that was the price I had to pay for achieving my dreams. I had to endure the looks and the whispers and the giggles and in the end it was all worth it.
Taking the first step. Feeling the fear, thinking about everything that could go wrong, and doing it anyway.
I keep thinking, “A year is too soon, most people take much longer for their careers to take off, there’s no way that I can make it happen.” And then I answer myself immediately with, “If I don’t do this now, when will I do it? If I can’t commit myself 100% to a goal for a year, how will I ever make it happen?” I’m tired of waiting and wondering and hoping. I’m ready to make something happen.
So, for those of you who have been anxiously waiting, that’s my big decision. It really feels like the scariest thing I’ve ever done – and I’ve done a few scary things in my life. I remember the month before I left for South America I was sick with anxiety almost every single day. I felt like I was enveloped in darkness and gloom. I didn’t want to go. But I had booked my ticket, quit my job, sold my car, and stored my belongings. I was committed. And it turned out to be the best decision I ever made.
Hopefully, as I look back on my life in the decades to come, I’ll feel the same way about this decision. In her book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says that the self-help community has it all wrong. Usually, we ask people, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” She says the more important question is, “What would you do even if you knew that you very well might fail?” There’s a good chance that I’ll fall flat on my face. But there isn’t anything I would rather fail at. This is what I need to do.