On Facing Your Fears

Koh Rong, Cambodia

Koh Rong, Cambodia

There’s a biological necessity for fear. It’s what ensures that we triple-check that the bungee cord is connected to something, and something solid, before we fling ourselves into the abyss (“antes de lanzarse al abismo” – one of my favorite Spanish phrases). After all, there’s no turning back once you’ve made that fateful decision, and the consequences can be deadly. Planning a long-term trip around the world – by yourself, no less – can feel similarly nerve-wracking, especially when considering that the alternatives are so much safer.

I’m not going to say that it’s easy, or that everything will suddenly click into place, or that the fearlessness of travel is something that always translates into default life. I don’t know you, or the depth of your fear, or the reasons for it. But I can tell you of my experience. One of my biggest fears – possibly the biggest – is being alone. Despite that, I tried my hand at facing it this past year.

Have I overcome it? No, most definitely not. Being as social as I am, there’s no maximum to the number of people I let into my life. I love to love, to lavish attention and affection on everyone. My ability to love is my currency, and in that sense, I never need to work again. (In the practical “money is currency” concept though, I need a job. Hint, hint..)

Friends who knew me well quietly questioned my decision to go for so long, knowing my preference for having a strong network to call upon whenever I felt slightly bored or lonely. My natural tendency is to network, to bring people together so no one feels left out, and to plan exciting events so that I can share experiences with new friends. I like to keep in touch with people, to learn about a world outside of my own and in times of trouble, to ask for their support.

In that sense, have I changed dramatically? No. But in other ways, I completely have.

Kep, Cambodia

Kep, Cambodia

I’m more comfortable going to restaurants or book stores alone. The simple pleasure of walking into a grocery store, knowing that I have enough money to buy whatever I need and maybe even some things I want, is empowering. I love sitting in the park, watching the theatre of life unfold before me – and knowing that to someone else, I am an actor in their play as well. Since my iPod died, I’m forced to listen to the conversations around me, to not criticize or judge but really search for the positive in every interaction. Being alone has taught me to appreciate being in company, and to take time out to thank those who have honored me by letting me into their lives.

I could argue that I was never really alone when traveling – that someone always took me into their home, and fellow travelers were always keen to share the fun – but even that mindset shift is something that occurred when I realized that it was pointless to be scared of something that, by my nature, is not a permanent reality.

In an argument, someone once told me that I wasn’t adventurous enough, that I lived paralyzed by fear. My immediate reaction was to deny this, and to point out the basic fact that I was on this trip in the first place, which already makes me more adventurous than a good chunk of people one is likely to meet. Plus, I’m obsessive compulsive, and I actively engaged in activities that usually serve as triggers – anyone who knows me well knows that this Voyage was a pretty serious undertaking, both physically and mentally.

But as I contemplated this topic for the next few weeks, I realized that I can’t keep defending myself or pointing out the wrong in other people. It wouldn’t have done me any good to have turned around and pointed out all the ways in which they were trapped in their own minds, because they wouldn’t have listened and I would have sullied my reputation with myself. Instead, I needed to focus on what they’re saying, understand why they said it, and come to a point where I was comfortable with who I was such that their criticism didn’t change the fundamental element of my being.

Kep, Cambodia

Kep, Cambodia

I do agree that there are some serious things I should change. But I realized there’s more nuance to my initial fear than I had previously thought. Instead of simply fearing being alone, I should say that I’m scared of being without people with whom I can be myself. Not to be all Holden Caulfield about this, but I can’t stand phonies; I give too much of myself to accept that there are people who take advantage of that. But that – I’m happy to say – is a much easier beast to challenge.

People will come and go, they’ll die and disappoint you and break your trust. But after a year of traveling, I can confidently say that I will never be without people I resonate with. I will never be without friends. And though some may say I use this word too loosely, I would say that too many people don’t use it enough. The way that I am has led me to live a life that has everything I need – now the only challenge is bringing in the good and pushing out the bad. Luckily, I have the rest of my life to do this. I didn’t overcome my fear, but I have a better idea of how to tackle it from here on out.

Advertisements