Here’s a secret: If I can’t imagine it, can’t picture what it looks like, I tend to be apprehensive about it. What “it” represents can shift, from my next writing or producing project, to meeting a new friend I don’t really know for tea, to traveling somewhere new. A ripple of nerves won’t stop me from doing something, but truth be told, when a situation is not yet familiar and comfy as my North Face fleece, I feel butterflies fluttering.
My god, before I left to travel for 8 months, I nearly passed out more than a few times thinking about the novella’s worth of unknowns that awaited me. Does one actually know when they have malaria? Are the trains in India really like the one in Slumdog Millionaire and if so, how do I order a tiffin? Will I regret not buying more moisture wicking underwear? How do I hire a tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh? Will my frizzies go wild in Southeast Asian humidity?
But the beauty of that time, of those nights I sat on my balcony overlooking Philadelphia, drinking wine, writing in my journal, listening to Alexi Murdoch, was that in the midst of my fears came a solace, an understanding in the pit of my belly that what I was doing was right and good. I could close my eyes and not for the life of me imagine what, in 8 months, would have passed before me, what I would have seen. But I was sure it would be incredible.
What a lovely space to find myself in: afraid of unknowns, but marveling at a knowledge that what I was bound to experience would move me toward living the life I longed to live. I believed that 8 months down the road, it would be a movie script worth of memories that rolled past my closed eyes, not a blank slate. And it is.
The same sensation held true during the trip, as my time on the road wound down and I began imagining my return to the U.S. Now that was some serious terror. Again, I couldn’t imagine what home would look like, but I had ideas about what I wanted it to look like, what I hoped for it to look like. Generally, these involved a life of independence, working for myself, maintaining freedom in my schedule, being able to dictate the how’s and why’s of my day-to-day. I liked to think I’d be walking a road of unknowns buffeted by some inner peace gained from my recent adventures.
It didn’t exactly turn out that way, at least not initially. I got scared. Then I acted on that fear rather than merely acknowledging its existence with a nod. I made decisions I believed at the time were for the best — like the one about working in a cubicle for a cable giant, in part out of fear that if I followed the non-traditional path pulsing in my veins, I would fail. And it’s better to be safe than unemployed and scraping up rent in New York City, or so the saying might go.
After spending a few months feeling like my chest — not to mention my soul — was in a vise, I had to admit: I fucked up. I didn’t make BAD decisions or WRONG decisions. But I made decisions that didn’t follow my heart.
Thank heavens for second chances. After a lot of soul-searching and crying on subways (I’d like to think I wept inconspicuously), I decided I had freaking had enough. I wasn’t put on this planet to feel lost, or like I had taken a bold, brave leap once, then squandered it all away because I got nervous about meeting some meaningless lifestyle standard I hadn’t even had a role in defining. Oh, hell no.
I chose to take a do-over, and I’d like to think I’m “doing” things more meaningfully this time ’round. But getting here took a year of making hard decisions, facing unhappiness and defining where it came from at it’s core. Then, it took some deep digging to find courage to climb back on my own path.
Where does the path lead? Another unknown — but one that finally feels scary for all the right reasons. I can’t always picture it, and that’s nerve-wracking, but this time I’ll strive to follow my truth and believe that in a year, when I close my eyes, the movie script rolling past is gonna look pretty darn awesome.
* Side note: When I need a courage boost, or a reminder of the life less ordinary, these lines from John O’Donohue’s “A Morning Offering” make me want to fist-pump the Universe:
“May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today,
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for.
And waste my heart on fear no more.”