From the get-go, I was a nervous kid. My doctor actually told my mother when I was only eight years old that I had the nerves of an 80-year-old woman. “I blame myself,” my mother would say later, when I was old enough to understand what my doctor meant. “I sheltered you too much.” Although she can’t take all the blame, she did shelter me a little bit too much. It was that sheltering that had a long-lasting impact. My sister, being the second born, wasn’t sheltered at all or coddled like a baby bird with a broken wing like I was. For that, she was very fortunate.
My younger sister who, back then, was far more fearless than I could have even dreamed of being, learned to ride a bike first. When it came to learning to drive, my sister fearlessly mastered it and – gasp – could even drive the highway, too. Once I finally learned, I had a hard enough time driving the 10-minutes to the Dunkin’ Donuts, let alone any further. My sister, on the other hand, was driving into concerts in Boston on the weekend and to Faneuil Hall. But it was fine then. I had friends who drove and I was never a huge fan of Boston anyway.
Where the fear started to stand in the way was when it came to applying for colleges. I desperately wanted to go to New York City. Although I had only been a few times with my family and my friends, it was my dream to move there, become a world-famous writer, and, well, the rest would fall into place perfectly. Because if New York was the city of dreams, then of course things would fall into place perfectly, flawlessly, with little to no effort involved. But I lacked the necessary courage to even apply to NYU, finding myself in Durham, New Hampshire, at UNH; a dreadfully provincial school full of small, narrow minds. I hated myself for being so scared and for being so stuck because I was scared.
But the good think about being around people whose dreams and goals aren’t even close to your own, is that you’re forced to do something about it. As I watched people who graduated before me stay close to home, I couldn’t fathom such a future for myself. I couldn’t imagine being stuck and settling for the mediocrity that others felt so comfortable finding themselves in. That was really something to fear.
A year after graduation, terrified out of my mind, I moved to New York City. I’d be damned if I stayed in New Hampshire, collecting dust the way people who only exist and never live do.
I found that New York suited me well. It also inspired in me the need to go further – so did multiple viewings of Lost in Translation. I longed to be lost. I longed to be surrounded by languages and cultures that were foreign to me. I longed for my heart to be shaken a bit with fear of the unknown — a fear completely different from the fear I had as a kid.
So, I went to Paris for a month by myself. But a month wasn’t long enough. So I returned the following year for three months, again by myself, and during that time took trips to Italy and Spain. Then onto Germany, Budapest, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark — but no place was far enough. So I went even further: Cambodia, Thailand, South Africa, Japan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Singapore. I couldn’t get enough. It wasn’t just a craving; it was a need.
How did I do it? Because I had to do it. I had no choice. I had lived the first 22 years of my life terrified and being terrified prevented me from doing the things I wanted to do in life. My fear had prevented me from even applying to the college I wanted to go to. It wasn’t even as though I applied and was to scared to attend; I was too scared to apply in the first place.
I realized that you can’t live an extraordinary life without pushing yourself. I’ll never admit it’s 100 percent easy to get on a plane, all alone, and head off to a country I’ve never been to, but it’s far less daunting than sitting in one place and going nowhere forever.
While my sister got married, had kids, and lost her fearless streak, I made up for that lack of fear tenfold. It was as though I absorbed it from her. I haven’t just become daring, but completely without fear. Nothing scares me — not even death — and I’ve realized once you let go of everything, especially the inevitable (I mean, none of us are getting out of this whole life thing alive, right?), you’re capable of anything. When you’re capable of anything, the world isn’t just your oyster, it’s yours. It belongs to you.