Here’s Why You Should Do Something That Scares You Shitless

Photo Credit: Rafi K0egel

“My name is Ruchie, Dammit!”

And, no, I’m not angry. No, I’m not upset. No, I’m not shouting.

A wise professor once taught me that as you introduce yourself, imagine the word dammit with a large exclamation point after your name. This is who you are. This is what people will think of you. This is defining your identity, your respect, your value.

Say your name meekly and be forever viewed as inferior, unworthy, insignificant, forfeiting your potential. But say it proudly, dammit, and have others look at you in awe, recognizing– even more so than yourself– your power, confidence, and courage.

I glanced at the glass windows lining the central bus station of Jerusalem and caught a glimpse of my shadow in the window. I didn’t recognize myself for a moment. Who was this woman, this soldier, this body covered in green? With each step of my black boot I passed another building that casted my reflection before me.

Even if I sprinted, I couldn’t escape her presence. But I didn’t want to run. I didn’t want to hide. I wanted to capture this figure of inspiration, passion, and strength. My gold pin shined atop my green beret. As I peered down at it, I smiled thinking about the arduous journey and unremitting fight I put up in order to have this seemingly silly swab of fabric cloaked on my shoulder.

But this old and used piece of wool is the furthest thing from silly. It is my trophy of victory. It is the symbol of my faith. It is my constant reminder of love and commitment. It is the manifestation of pure kindness in this world.

Everyone told me it was impossible to draft into the army at my age (grandma, apparently, at the ripe ol’ one of 24). My closest friends, my parents, the heads of the army advising groups all told me: “Ruchie, give up your dream.”

I was only in Israel once beforehand for a week. I was working long hours in Jerusalem. I thought in April I wouldn’t need a sweater… wrong. But I felt something I had never felt in all my travels as a geographer. I felt a warmth, a love, a connection. No matter how much time I lived in Ecuador, I’ll never be “Ecuadorian.” I could know the country’s map like my own palm, speak the language as my mother tongue, know the culture perfectly. But it’s not my land, my language, my culture. In Israel, I’m home. I walk on the same land as my forefathers. I speak the same language as the scripture in the most holy books. I embrace a colorful and diverse culture that I can call my own with a mosaic of other people from America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

I abandoned my family, my friends, and my job offers to come to a small, controversial land thousands of miles away where I couldn’t even speak the language. I also thought it would be brilliant to volunteer to draft into the military.

A volunteer to the army? Yes, that’s a thing. And thousands of people for whatever reason decide to do it for no other land in the world except for this one. You’d think the military would be excited about such stupidly passionate people; SPOILER: they don’t care.

So every day, I returned to the enlistment office with only one goal in mind: Get inside the building. Naturally, then, I befriended all the security guards. When that didn’t gain me admittance into the building, I came back each morning at 7am, waiting patiently at the sole entrance to pounce on the commanders and ask them to enlist me. I wrote countless letters. I even broke into the head officer’s car and put copies of my letters there. After a month, I got a notice. I was to be drafted as a soldier.

I know, this seems slightly crazy. Why would I jump through so many hoops to… give up my freedom and liberty as a citizen? Because sometimes the most rewarding things come from the most self-less of acts.

Several months later, I was thrust on a bus to an unknown destination for training. I had just been assigned to be a secretary without a specific division. So much for my top-college degree and thinking as a foreigner I could actually contribute meaningfully.

A girl 6 years younger than me was yelling at me in incomprehensible Hebrew. I nodded to appease her. I didn’t speak a word of Hebrew when I initially arrived, and I didn’t have a clue what she was telling me. I had always been a good student, one to listen to all the rules, but my first night of training, I somehow kept messing up. That night a single tear fell down my cheek as I tried to hide from the other girls. What did I just get myself into?

The following morning though, I woke up recharged. I realized I couldn’t rationalize a seemingly irrational system; I needed to simply better understand it and work within it. I made phone calls, wrote letters, crafted posts. I knew where I envisioned my destination, I just needed to find the map to get there, and a miracle to expedite the voyage.

I did everything I could to not lose hope and make my dream a reality. But it was only with the pure kindness and love of complete strangers, people who didn’t even know me, that I was ultimately successful. A complete stranger somehow came across my letter and decided to help me. She sent all my documents to her friends, and I was connected with a soldier serving in the field in which I was interested.

I didn’t know who she was. I didn’t know what she did. But it was something. I came to this country having nobody to turn to, and now I had a name and a whatsapp of someone. She connected me with her commander, and we arranged to meet. As I sat on a bench outside their offices, the boss of the commander of the soldier walked past me– the colonel. Ignorant to ranks, I greeted him as I would anybody else- “Hi! How are you?” He was taken aback and smiled. And the rest is now, miraculously, history.

Photo Credit: Rafi Koegel

It isn’t easy to commute to Tel Aviv daily from Jerusalem. It isn’t easy to race against traffic to get to teach my yoga class on time every night. It isn’t easy to somehow find time to clean, shop, spend time with my beloved roommates (shout out to Yonah and Noam), and sleep each week when I come home after 10pm. But every morning, I wake up just after 4am to take time for myself to meditate, run, and do yoga. Every day, I am eager to see what I’ll learn at work and what kind of impact I can make on this world–even with ALL the responsibility that comes with being a lowly private.

But despite the immense weight upon my shoulders and those of all the soldiers in this military, I stand tall with my right arm raised, elbow bent, and fingers straightening, angled by my brow. I salute this country, knowing full well that there is no other place I’d rather be.

I once read something brilliant that said “how you do anything is how you do everything.” I had to stop and think about what that meant for a minute. Moving to a new neighborhood is hard enough. Traversing oceans to a completely new place and joining the army? That’s some crazy scary shit.

But today, all of that seems like crossing a dried-up puddle. This morning, I donned my bathing suit and dived down into the frigid water from hundreds of feet above. I stood before my fellow soldiers, commanders, and even the general, and I gave a speech telling this ridiculous story of mine. In Hebrew. For 10 minutes.

The beauty of writing is that I can take cover behind my words. The beauty of public speaking, or so I thought, was non-existent. There’s no shield. There’s no protection. You are exposed, naked, raw, and vulnerable to the piercing gaze of your entire audience. Gulp. Where can I hide?

But whenever we do anything, we might as well jump all in rather than live with regret. I was never supposed to be speaking. I unknowingly agreed to this after having a bad day and saying “yes” simply to appease another soldier in order for her to leave me alone. Apparently, this “yes” meant that I would agree to enter a speech into a competition for the biannual ceremony.

As I stood at the podium with the sun beating down upon my marked up and slightly creased manuscript, my fingers began to tremble. “Damnit. Damnit. Damnit,” I repeated to myself. “Be strong. Be Bold. Be Beautiful,” I recalled as my mantra. I finished the first paragraph, then the second. And soon I began to feel more comfortable with the other eyes upon me.

I realized that this is MY story. This is my crazy journey of doing something that scared me shitless. This is my moment of vulnerability, just like these past eleven months of me calling this country home.

In our lives, our struggles pile up. And when one small thing slips, our entire lives seem to collapse. We are fearful, we are alone, we are helpless. So let’s not build more piles. Let’s stay on flat, linear planes. Let’s focus on all the amazing things we have in our lives to be grateful for. Let’s never stop fighting for what we care about. And Let’s always push our limits; fear is just an emotion designed to control us and hold us back from reaching our true potential.

The rest of the speech filled me with hope as each word brought me back to all the feelings and emotions that were associated with each particular event in time. I stepped away from the podium, removed my beret from my shoulder and placed it gingerly upon my head. “Ha-Tikvah,” the national anthem, began to sound.

My right hand rose to salute: To salute this country. To salute the other soldiers who have left everything familiar to them to be here. To salute the military comprised of young adults who devote their lives to protect this country. To salute bravery, courage, and stepping out of your comfort zone. And ultimately, to salute the unbelievable power, boundless courage, effervescing ebullience, and everlasting sensation of floating on happiness that comes with doing something that scares you shitless.

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