How I Was Scared Shitless (But Did It Anyway)

Alright, so: I was going to do a whole recap post of the last few days — the 36 hours of travel, our 15-mile jaunt through Auckland, how mind-blowing it is to finally put our feet down half-way across the world in accomplishment of a hard-earned dream. But then I realized that there’s a huge topic to cover, a whole feelings-chapter to honor, that encompassed most of my waking days before leaving — one that I had lowkey resented so many hyper-idealistic travel bloggers for not talking about in their pursuit of perfect-life documentation.

It’s fear. It’s how I was really, really scared.
It’s the uncharacteristic, full-body resistance I felt before leaving.

Before we dive in, let me paint you and my narcissistic future-self a word picture: Right now, I’m sitting in my flowery South-Carolina-thrift-shop dress on the floor of our suspiciously clean hostel. All of the lights are off, because ye elderly Peter has been asleep for an hour. To my left is a growling fan in front of an open window because it’s 70 degrees out, and 11pm Parnell traffic is a-wizzin’. To my right is a full glass of Peter Yealands New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc procured from our new-fave NZ grocery store. The self-checkout clerk there already recognizes us now (as boozehounds).

Ya girl is ready.

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well r u?

The last week before our take-off date, for me, was marked by upticks of fear. I didn’t understand it to be fear at first, or maybe, I refused to define it as such. The whole point of this adventure was to be Fearless, Bold, Cool and Unbothered. I wasn’t supposed to feel scared. Badasses who are documenting their badassery for all to see shouldn’t feel scared. 

Also, two young people raised by great families who have the resources, support and blessed circumstance to take their earnings and travel for a year? I told myself, your privileged ass is not allowed to feel scared. You can’t label this as Scary in 2017. Shut up.

But it didn’t present itself as Fear at first. It was almost like a prolonged PMS — I was crying a little easier, I was a bit needier and more sensitive, I wanted to do more doing-nothing, I was having a hard time sleeping. Peter and I had to have more “Okay, hold up, what is this about, really?”-type conversations than usual.

It took about a week for me to name it Fear, and to define what exactly I was afraid of. (I finally did it laying in bed, talking to the ceiling, Peter probs desperately wanting to sleep.) The fear was maybe 10% about the trip itself — thoughts of bags getting lost, humans being wild, things exploding that weren’t supposed to explode, etc. But mostly, I was scared about leaving. I was scared about walking away from the cocoon of a life we’d built. After spending the last decade joyfully sewing oats of independence far away from home, I was effing terrified about leaving the nest. 

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Beer me strength, Disney’s Pocahontas

Special mention: I’m also afraid of lack of structure. One thing that’s been difficult to admit to myself, because it’s also stereotypically antithetical of An Independent Badass: I like structure. I love rules. I like plans and I like to be told what to do, even if the teller is myself. The fact that we’re winging this entire thing — the fact that we have few solid plans after mid-February and no actual freaking end-date — freaked me out, too. (Shoutout to therapy for helping me comb that bad boy out.)

But my biggest fear was rooted in comfort.

Before leaving, I had been back in San Francisco for two years, but last January, Peter and I moved in with my family to pay lower rent and chop up the remainder of our debt. That put us (1) smack dab in the command center of my loud, tight-knit, hilarious fam, and (2) blocks away from my closest childhood friends, who also live with their families. (Insert predictable Millennial jab.) Not only have I enjoyed an incredible, tech-cushy job that tied a lot of loose young-adult ends up very neatly, but I spent the last year nestled into My Most Comfortable Place In The World — surrounded every waking second by the faces and places that know me and that I know best.

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You should’ve seen this gif coming, honestly

This fear of breaking comfort sat on me like a shoulder devil while I was going through all the before-we-go motions, whispering wild shit all the while:

Taking pictures of our passports and electronic warranties. (Who leaves a job like yours? You’ll honestly never get paid that much for work you love ever again. Dumb.)

Labeling my travel meds in little baggies with a Sharpie. (You live walking distance from your best friend right now, idiot; who are you going to vent to in rural Australia?)

Tossing 3/4ths of my belongings in a growing Goodwill pile. (You’re closer with your family than ever, and you’re just going to jaunt away, you selfish asshole? What if something happens? Don’t they need you? Don’t you need them?)

I kept scolding myself for feeling scared. Then I scolded myself for scolding myself, and rinse and repeat. It’s a toxic cycle so many of us are familiar with, replacing fear with your Feeling of Choice (shame, insecurity, what have you). A teen I worked with told me, “As long as your feelings of excitement about the trip overpower your fear, it’s all good!” I was like, shiiiieeeet. What if it doesn’t? Does that mean I’m not cut out for this? I’d spent the last year being excited, but now that I can’t feel it under the thick layer of anxiety, does that mean this is a bad idea?

At one point, I told Peter: I could 100% talk myself out of this whole thing right now. I have a thousand reasons. 
I won’t, but I could.

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It me, deeply

In the last few days before takeoff, all we heard from friends and family were, “Are you so excited?!” “How excited are you?!” “You must be so excited.” Nah, man. In the week leading up to takeoff, I was just numbly going through the prep motions, waiting for this stupid fear cloud to pass so I can feel the excitement everyone else was talking about. Every time someone said, “I’m so excited for you!”, it felt like they were tapping on the glass of a thick aquarium tank. I heard their happy voices in a muffle; I was stuck in my own silo of doubt. I wanted to stay near my mom. I wanted to keep my dad company. I wanted to keep my things where they were.

It wasn’t until the car ride to the airport that I felt the clouds break. It was so strange. I felt the scary thoughts actually volume-down as we got on 280 North towards the airport — as if by physically leaving the nest, bags packed, I was leaving the cycle of anxiety behind, too. It was as if being surrounded by that comfort was both cocooning and suffocating me; like the price of keeping myself wrapped in familiarity was being pinned down by self-doubt and, in the long run, crippling regret. 

And the only thing that broke the cycle was almost forced escape. It was remembering that this type of fear, backed by self-propagated things like doubt and insecurity, almost always point directly at what you should absolutely do. Fear that tells you, “You’re not ready; just stay put” should often be translated directly as “Getchass towards the thing you’re scared of as soon as possible.” Because in this case, I think beyond that layer of anxiety lays greatness, growth, shattered expectations. In this case, and the whole reason we’re doing this: I suspect that beyond my fear lies some wild, wonderful, unimaginable life I just might be worthy of one day.

(Allegedly. I mean, it’s only been like two days, y’all.)

But important to note: I had no room for those good, great and empowering thoughts until I actually, physically, left my comfort zone. It’s weird that in my case, it took a sort of calculated recklessness to conquer fear, isn’t it? (Or is that effed up and totally backwards? Either way, I’m here and can tell you that so far, it was the right decision.)

And full disclosure, I also had another important thought carrying me through. To paraphrase: “Betch, pack and pick your ass up. You already paid for these flights.”

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Beer me strength, Bridesmaid’s unsung hero, Carol

That’s it for now. I’ve almost finished my wine, and it’s time for bed, but cheers to you on this last sip:

May you listen very closely to your fears, and choose thoughtfully and honestly which ones to honor, and which ones to flip the mother-effin’ bird. 

— Berna

6 thoughts on “How I Was Scared Shitless (But Did It Anyway)

    1. HA, YES. I’m so proud of you, Caitlin! That’s the trick, it seems — find the motivator that’s greater than fear for you. For both of us, it sounds like “missing out on hard-earned monies” is it 😂

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  1. Proud of you, for toeing the edge and taking that hard leap, and then writing about it so honestly. “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” LOVE watching you go after it. 💌💌💌💌💌💌💌

    Liked by 1 person

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