The best things happen when you let your guard down

Like any rational person, I believe in basic safety.

Always wear a seatbelt. Lock your doors, even when you’re home. Have an alarm system. Don’t dress like a tourist. Have copies of important documents. Make sure someone always knows where you are.

I have a tendency to let my paranoia get the best of me, going out of my way to ensure that nobody has a chance of even getting close to me. It happens every day on the train, when I create a wall with my headphones, book and overly large backpack that make it nigh impossible for anyone to even try to talk to me.

Even when I do engage in conversation, it’s often guarded. Polite, but distanced, often using humor to deflect or create a barrier from the truth.

But the best things happen when you let your guard down.

Like that time I was in Paris and wasn’t sure if I was getting on the right train. Frustrated, I stood looking at the schedule, looking — and feeling — completely lost. And right when I finally accepted that I might need some help, who should come by but a friendly stranger.

He stopped, saw my hopeless face, and turned around, asking in broken English if I needed some help. I pointed to where I was trying to go, and in a mix of some words and beckoning hand gestures, he let me know that he would take me where I needed to go.

It’s definitely not normal behavior for me to just follow a strange young man to an unknown destination while visiting a foreign country, but I decided that I didn’t feel any inner sense of dread or warning, so I trusted him. Lo and behold, I ended up where I needed to be, and gained faith in the general goodness of humanity in the process.

Or there’s that time on an airport shuttle in Bergen, Norway. I was getting all settled in with my headphones when another solo traveler introduced herself. Not wanting to be rude, I answered her questions and found that she was visiting from South Korea. We talked for about an hour about the places we’d seen so far and ended up exchanging contact information and following each other’s social media accounts.

And then there’s Jonathan, the Uber driver in Puerto Rico who volunteered to spend a day taking us to all his favorite spots. In a moment of trust, we said yes. It ended up being one of the best days of the whole trip, full of less-popular beaches, and early morning hike and the most incredible meal.

It was these lessons, and more, that allowed me to feel comfortable enough to open up during an interview and share some of my own personal experiences. The subject for the story I was writing responded well and gave me such great information that the story went from being a quick brief to one of the most read pieces that month.

And how could I forget the biggest, most impactful one of all? It took an immense amount of courage and faith to let down my guard and allow myself to love the person that is now my husband. Letting myself be truly honest and vulnerable wasn’t something I thought I’d ever feel comfortable doing in a relationship, especially with how it had turned out previously.

But I did. And it’s been the best reward yet.

Distancing myself from my feelings through humor, sarcasm and yes, even headphones, is still my natural instinct. Being the introvert that I am, starting conversations is scary and I tend to prefer keeping to myself and being in the background. These little — and one big— experiences, though, have made it a little easier to take risks. A little easier to let my shoulders down and just enjoy the things life throws at you.

I’ll always be a little shy, a little uptight at first. I’ll always lock my doors at night and make sure I wear a seatbelt. But I’ve learned that opening yourself up doesn’t always automatically mean you’ll get hurt, emotionally or physically. And not every time I let my guard down will things turn out great, but I think it would be an awful shame to only hold on to the bad things and never have another chance at a great friendship, memory or something more.

So here’s to being vulnerable sometimes. Here’s to letting fate take over and learning that, more often than not, great things come from taking letting your shoulders drop.

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