Brave New Girl

Giving up Washington, DC to follow my heart

I’ve thought a lot about courage this year and what it means to me. I’ve always thought of myself as a brave person — I’m alway willing to try new things, climb a tall tree, or swim with scary animals.

But I realized this past year that I wasn’t brave at all. I had been living in fear. I think most people look at me and think I have everything figured out. They see a person with a successful career and seemingly healthy personal life, but under the surface was someone living in fear. Fear of doing what I actually wanted to do and fear of being the person I wanted to be.

I struggled this year both personally and professionally. I had a crazy, unhealthy, and simultaneously exhilarating and wonderful job in Washington, DC. And it nearly killed me. I frequently worked 100-hour weeks. I traveled around the world on a moment’s notice. I solved problems. I facilitated major foreign policy initiatives. The pressure to be perfect was enough to tear you apart. A mistake could be an international incident. At first, it was incredible. It felt meaningful, but after a while, I became tired and unhappy. The lifestyle affected my personal life. My long-term relationship almost ended.

It’s funny how you grow older you lose sight of your dreams. You feel the burden of responsibility and the pressure to keep up appearances. I certainly struggle with this. This year I had been thinking about my career and wondered what I should do next. I felt the pressure to keep doing something “cool” and equally demanding. I should take that job at the White House or go to San Francisco to work in tech, I told myself. It’s the responsible thing to do. My heart was telling me to do something else.

I’ve dreamt of exploring the world since I was young. My first trip overseas was when I was 10, and I’ve been hooked ever since. What will people think if you leave your job? They’ll think you’re crazy. When it came time to make decisions about next steps, I was too afraid to do what I really wanted to do — to throw caution to the wind, leave my job, and travel the world for a year.

The sad part about living in the United States is we equate worth with your occupation. If you work only a 40-hour week or have a less-demanding job, you are somehow worth less. Or maybe that’s just how it is in Washington, but I suspect that feeling is pervasive throughout the country. I was afraid people would think I’m lazy for doing this trip and that I’m “not a hard worker.” It’s an unfortunate and favorite pastime to brag about how much we work. But you know what? It’s all bullshit. I am not worth less than someone else because I want to take this time for myself to travel. I am not a reprobate. Or a freeloader. I’m just curious. One day I want to be a wrinkly old woman full of experiences and ridiculous stories. I want my future grandchildren to think their grandma was the shit.

Getting back to courage — I had known that I wanted to do this trip for months. My boyfriend, Tyler, and I talked about it last year. It just took me a very, very long time to get to this point. I was afraid. I didn’t want to torpedo my career. But when you come home every day after work and you cry in your bed because you’re so unhappy, you know something needs to change.

Maybe it was my unhappiness that brought me the courage to leave DC — I’m not sure. But I knew I didn’t want to be afraid of my dreams anymore. This year I want to be brave. If there’s something on this trip that scares me, I want to do it.

Last week, Tyler and I drove the Garden Route in South Africa. After breakfast one morning, we decided to go on a hike, but Tyler had other plans. Instead, he drove us to Bloukrans Bridge — the world’s highest bungee jumping bridge. I could have murdered him. Tyler, the interminable daredevil, said he was going to jump. I, however, heard my mother’s voice begging me not to do it. My brain agreed with Mom — the idea of jumping off a bridge with a 709 ft drop absolutely terrified me. I had to remind myself that I’m trying to face my fears this year.

So I jumped.

My brain: WHAT DID YOU DO?!

Courage can mean many things. You can have courage to quit your job, courage to jump off a bridge, or courage to deal with your ghosts.

Next week we’re flying to Bali where I’m doing yoga teacher training. I’m excited and nervous. I’m apprehensive to delve into my past. In some ways, I keep my heart and mind at arm’s length just so I can function like a “normal person.” I know it’s going to be physically, mentally, and emotionally rigorous, but I know I’ll be better for it in the long run. It will be better for the people in my life, too.

This post is more personal than what I’d normally put online, but my hope is that it might inspire people to face their fears. We all have them, but life is too short to be afraid.

Be brave, dear friends.

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Originally published at www.thetraveldarling.com on September 22, 2015.

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