Many moons ago, back in January of 2008, I decided to (in the words of one Meleah Paull) pull it together.
Upset about something going on in my life, I stepped back and counted my blessings. That particular January, I was going on a fully-funded service learning trip with college classmates to Costa Rica. There’s nothing like shoveling cement in the hot sun to give you perspective. And a challenge: for me, this trip represented the culmination of my Spanish major, and the first realization that, while I’d been once mistaken for a native while strolling the streets of Spain (let’s face it: most likely because I have dark hair and was carrying a local newspaper under one arm), I had a bit of trouble with the Costa Rican accent and local terms.
In any event, this was back during my undergraduate days, when there was a list of things I was afraid of: traveling alone, heights, other people’s bare feet, living in a chai-less world, learning and using new languages, the extinction of kiwi fruits, etc. A long list.
What does pulling it together mean? In essence, facing my fears. Over the years, whenever I’m faced with a situation I’m upset with, I’ve felt compelled to cross one of those items off the list. And that’s a good thing. For example, traveling alone has become so routine over the past four years that it doesn’t even bother me. In fact, I kind of like it: just my Kindle and me, too many hours on a plane, and the quasi-silence of strangers… or some kind of random conversation with a chatty seatmate.
Back in 2008, I conquered my fear of heights on a zip line in the rain forest. Granted, on the first two zips (or whatever you call the distances between one tree and another), I couldn’t do it on my own and rode with someone else. But I zipped my way through the last 10.
In 2009, I boarded a plane by myself in Boston, navigated an airport where my native language was not widely used, and successfully transferred myself to Slovenia. Fear of traveling alone, conquered.
In 2010, I was nervous to leave for Slovenia for 10 months. Would I find an apartment? Would I be friends with my new roommate? Could I even accomplish the ambitious project I’d proposed for my grant? Would I be able to manage my money? I spent the first week so paralyzed by these fears, and by homesickness, that I retreated to my room every day after class and threw myself a pity party, complete with charts of Slovenian grammar I was sure I’d never master. But I made it through, and ended up loving it so much I’m still nostalgic for the good old Slovenia days even now.
The rules of the game are as follows: identify a fear; find some way to face that fear; and do it on your own. Now, if someone else happens to be there, that’s fine, but you can’t need them to be there. It’s about independence as much as conquering fears. (Or is being too dependent on someone a secret fear?)
So, off I go, on Saturday, to Buenos Aires. Time to face down a new one: living in an English-less world. Putting my Spanish to the test–not just in situations where I want to (as in Costa Rica, when I was traveling alongside several native speakers), but all the time.
In other words, I’m pulling it together.