This past week, I’ve been thinking about how difficult I currently find it to dive into something without knowing what will happen. I feel like I have a million ideas that are stopped before they even have a chance to progress. And it’s entirely me that’s stopping them.
I also have persistent fears that I’m not going to be “successful” at whatever I’m trying to do. I fear that nobody will give me a chance to show who I am and how I contribute to the world. I fear that I’ll try and set foot (or my ideas) into the world and people won’t respond in a positive way.
I am a lucky one – I have no evidence for these fears, no rational argument for why I should be afraid. I even have compelling evidence that I shouldn’t fear leaping into the world with reckless abandon. Yet I do.
I was standing on the corner of two streets that I walk literally three times a week on my way to school and back. I was listening to music, and the song “Midnight City” by M83 came on. It’s not really a remarkable song, but it pulled me so hard I stopped walking – suddenly, I felt like I was back in Paris.
I noticed the color of the trees. I stood up straighter. I filled up with a magical feeling of strength and opportunity. I used to listen to that song all the time as I was strutting the streets of Paris, in a pair of black boots I wore completely through, heading to unknown new destinations and recently familiar ones. It filled me then, and now, with a sense of possibility and adventure. A sense that the world is my oyster.
Even more than that, I had the sense that I was safe in the world. It wasn’t that nothing could go wrong (many things did in Paris, and they do now), but it was a feeling that I could handle whatever went. Whatever happened.
Somehow, in the past few years, that feeling disappeared. What replaced it? Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, doubt. An obsessive focus on the future and past but not on the present. I think I had those before, too. But I also had the other stuff.
Here’s what I wrote, June 1st 2013, as I was about to head back from my first adventure abroad, tired but feeling: successful, nostalgic, sad, optimistic, strong, free, hopeful.
“What I was most worried about bringing back was Paris Anne. I thought about whether or not Paris Anne could exist in a different environment, especially one that another Anne was so comfortable in. It’s absurd to think that spending 5 months in a foreign country would not change the way I look at what once was the only thing I really knew in the world- America. Redmond. Whitman. And I want to look at these things differently. I know I’ve changed, and I want to stay changed; the confidence, the new and improved language skills, the way I think about my social relationships…all of these feel different in Paris Anne, and I think I have grown more certain of who I am through my encounters with uncertainty.
But, in the midst of worrying about whether or not I would feel frustrated about no longer being in Paris, I realized that the self I’ve formed here is actually the only thing I will be able to bring back with me. I can’t bring back the city, the French ubiquity, the freedom, and I can’t bring back the same experiences. But my more evolved processes of thinking and learning and living will always be with me, and I can use them anywhere I want to. My new goal is to approach life at home like I approached life in Paris: return with the attitude that the best experiences of my life can happen anywhere, at anytime, with anyone.
So, my conclusion (in cliché form): even if you take the Anne out of Paris, you won’t be taking Paris out of the Anne.”
I think that moment on the street reminded me of something important, just at the right moment.
That thing was:
I can keep learning, I can keep growing, I can keep making sense of my experiences, but I also, always, already have everything that I need.
Certainty, predictability, more degrees, more education, experience that comes with age – all are helpful. All are comforting.
But in an uncomfortable time, I find that what I need most is what I already had. What I need most is a reminder that the world is a huge, beautiful, safe and exciting place. Opportunities are everywhere. Not being certain is what enables learning, discovery, and growth. And above all, I can’t wait for my version of “success” to happen to me – I have to try things even if I don’t feel ready, prepared, or certain, at all.
Because we never know what will happen when we dive into the world wholeheartedly and embrace the adventure.