Maybe you’re the type of person who likes to have a plan. Perhaps you deal with your anxiety of the unknown by researching, striving to change as many variables from unknown to learned and tucking yourself comfortably into the certainty. If you are this kind of person, taking risks probably doesn’t come naturally to you. I know because this is me to a T. It recently dawned on me that at the age of 25, I have always had my next step planned out ahead of time. I went through preschool, elementary, middle and finally high school. I applied (and was accepted) early decision to college, meaning my biggest potential for uncertainty so far in my young life was cleared up a mere three months into my senior year.
When getting ready to graduate from college, I’d already lined up my first job and started working three days after graduating and moving across the country from my college town of Amherst, MA back to my hometown in Northern California. Even when I took my riskiest leap yet and moved to Vancouver, Canada two and a half years ago, I had a job lined up and waiting for me when I arrived. Whenever there’s been a hint of uncertainty on the horizon, I leap at the chance to snuff it out with a definitive plan. That’s why a few weeks ago, I decided to leave my full time job without having anything lined up. Naturally, I’ve been fielding the question “What’s next?” and it’s with a mixture of excitement and straight up terror that I admit that I’m not sure. For the very first time in my life, I don’t know.
I’ve always been a very cautious person. My mother tells me that as a young, crawling baby she never had to worry about me because while I was inquisitive, I took my time; I analyzed my surroundings. When learning to climb the stairs, I first simply sat at the bottom looking at them, planning my route. I’d gingerly test it out, never pushing out of my comfort zone before I was sure I could handle another step. When learning to drive at the age of 15, I had a natural edge on my more impulsive peers in that I would constantly assess my surroundings and try and guess what the worst case scenario was at any given moment. It was an exhausting habit to develop, but has helped me anticipate potential accidents and react appropriately on many occasions.
In fact, there are many areas of my life for which I am grateful for my cautious, analyzing tendencies. It wasn’t something I consciously pushed back against until I decided to move to a foreign country, to a city which I had never even visited. Moving to Vancouver was a real wake up call, a chance for me to face my fears of the unknown head-on and take a leap of faith. I still vividly remember boarding my plane with a sense of wonder and excitement, sure that this was to be one of those moments in my life that would transform me, and it was; however it was definitely not all sunshine and rainbows as I had secretly hoped. If I’m completely honest, it brought out a very nasty side of me and in a lot of ways was a real low point in my self-esteem.
I found myself incredibly sad and lonely once removed from my network of friends, my community, my habits, and my familiarity with my surroundings. I saw all of these people in my new life who had such a life here and couldn’t help comparing myself; I felt isolated. Instead of taking personal responsibility for my feelings I began externalizing my blame onto the people in my new life which then made it very hard to make friends, a total catch-22. The transition was rough, to say the least. Overwhelmed by newness and fear, I took the easy way out and shoved blame onto everyone around me, choosing to play the victim and live in a day to day full of frustration and anger. It brought out the most negative version of myself I’ve ever seen; but you know what? I came out on the other side stronger and more mature than ever.
It’s made me realize how much I’d previously been living safely within my comfort zone, so afraid of failure that I never took risks. It also in a lot of ways broke the ice, for I had finally forgone my cautious ways for impulse and promptly fallen flat on my face…but I had also gotten back up again. I learned valuable insight into my warning signs. Now whenever I start getting angry at those around me or feel myself tapping into that side of myself which I unearthed in my move, I stop and process my emotions. I get to the bottom of why these feelings are coming up and why I don’t feel comfortable accepting them and grappling with them.
It was a long journey but ultimately has taught me so much about myself and has left me happier and more confident in who I am than ever before. I made the conscious shift into accepting responsibility for my emotions. I realized that in order to build lasting friendships, I had to give the same level of vulnerability and love which I was expecting in return. I turned my Vancouver life around and all of a sudden I was happy at work. I was making friends and building a routine and–perhaps above all–I had carved out a space for myself within a community. I finally belonged.
We are constantly being encouraged to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. What is regretfully missing from this advice is the knowledge that taking risks opens you up to exploring your deepest insecurities and can lead to some serious emotion work that is not fun or pretty but is entirely necessary and rewarding. It’s important to realize what you’re getting yourself into and to remember that you are not alone if your push out of your comfort zone leaves you in tears. That’s how you know you’re doing it right. Stay in the work and you’ll be rewarded. So that risky change you’ve been mulling over? Stop thinking about it so much and make it happen. It might be messy and it will definitely bring up some demons but as long as you are honest with yourself and know how to ask for help when you need it, you’re the only thing standing in your way. Take the leap. I promise you’ll be a better person for it.