“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” -Carrie Fisher
I’ve just completed my junior year of college; I spent two of the four semesters studying abroad.
The reason I went to London 1.5 years ago wasn’t just because I really, really wanted to live in London. (I mean, that was definitely a huge part of it – come on, it’s London.) I also went to challenge myself, to not just step out of my comfort zone but to break it down with an axe and stand on the broken shards.
And yes, it was very out of my comfort zone. In the weeks before leaving I had panic and anxiety attacks over it, and the only reason I didn’t back out was because I had a strong enough resolve and I knew that I would regret it immensely if I did. Every other instinct in me, however, was screaming TURN BACK! DANGER AHEAD! I wrote list after list of the reasons I wanted to go; I woke up in the middle of the night to write encouraging letters to myself; I went through all the “worst case scenarios” and the “what ifs” until I was blue in the face. The people I spoke to on the program prior to leaving were all excited, while I was hyperventilating in the car after my graduation party.
I made it a point long ago, when it became clear to me that lots of things terrify me, to not let anxiety get in the way of me living the best life I can. I’m lucky in that my anxiety isn’t debilitating, but it is there, and it does make big things like studying abroad seem like an insurmountable mountain, or the Cliffs of Insanity from the Princess Bride.
London came and went, and with it came lots of teary Skype calls, homesick mornings and nights, and even a couple of Tube rides spent trying desperately not to cry. The day before my first big solo(ish) trip to Italy, I went in and out of anxiety attacks all day with fear for the upcoming trip. It wasn’t easy. In fact, London was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But once I got back to Pennsylvania, I decided to head back out into the vast and terrifying world. Before going to Italy, things were a little smoother, because everything becomes less scary the more you do it. (See also: flying on planes and taking trains alone.) Still, when I got there it took me a few weeks to settle in. I was happy to be in Italy but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t have the close support system that I did in London, I felt much more on my own and much more unprepared. I didn’t even speak Italian, something I had barely factored into the preparation and decision-making. (Kids, don’t be like me. Actually stick to using Duolingo before you leave instead of just saying eh it’ll be fine because look: it will not be fine unless you make it be fine.)
So my point? I was afraid before London. I did it anyway. I was afraid before Italy, and I did it anyway, even knowing from experience that it would be difficult.
Like the great “Princess Leia” would say: stay afraid, but do it anyway.