I’ve always liked to think there are few things that intimidate or frighten me. Hopping on a plane to an unknown place to stay with strangers in a country where I don’t speak the language generally makes me excited. Navigating public transport and haggling to make sure I get the local price is an adventure. And trying new foods that I don’t know the name of or are still moving when I eat them is a hobby. I’ve never paid much attention to security warnings and tend to trust my intuition rather than what I read from the news or US travel warnings. So perhaps on this measure I might be a brave person. But 2014 (because this post is a very belated new years post) brought lots of scary and intimidating changes and adventures and I often felt more unsure of myself than ever before. 2014 landed me on my favourite continent unexpectedly a record three times; trips that eased some of my restlessness and discontent with living in the Netherlands but also brought about the realization that I really cannot live long term in this tiny flat country I’ve called home for the past 2.5 years (crazy long!).
Although being in new environments, traveling, and trying new things generally is quite comfortable for me, and regardless of how stressed or unsure I am, putting on a smile and plunging ahead with whatever I am focused on is easy. But leaning in, being vulnerable and admitting that maybe I’m just a bit anxious about things or can’t quite do it all, is difficult and scary. Investing in a community, staying put, and being “comfortable” or maybe even following the status quo is utterly frightening. And this is the biggest lesson 2014 brought.
The start of 2014 was quite typical for Rachel, overwhelmingly busy organizing contacts, conducting literature review for my thesis and finishing up the final courses for my master’s degree. I had no time to think about where I was heading or what I was doing. Between courses, moving out, traveling to Cameroon, then starting my thesis, traveling to Uganda, moving in, months of data entry, an unexpected trip to Rwanda, failed job applications and interviews , the first half of 2014 was perpetual motion without a chance to catch my breath. But by September with a degree in hand, only a part time job offer, no certainty about my future and the deep let down that comes from months (years) of non-stop stress and action, I felt a bit lost. For years my life was filled with productivity and my ability to fill up every spare moment so that I could fit it all in, and suddenly I had much needed time on my hands but nothing to fill it up with. I wish I could say that I used this time productively: to learn French, read, learn new things, fill out loads of applications, train for something. But somehow the months flew by and I am only left with the feeling that I accomplished nothing.
Currently I’m at a crossroads where I have to make some big, big decisions about where I will be over the next coming YEARS, but in spite of everything, 2014 taught me to occasionally lower my smile when I really wasn’t feeling it, let people care, and instead of constantly giving, let people give to me. Being vulnerable is a risk. For me it’s usually easier to shut down, close people off, and continue with my perpetual motion. But sometimes, opening up and taking the risk of letting people in is worth it and leaves you more full than simply filling up life with outside things.
I wish I had a clear picture of 2015, I wish I had clear plans and knew the direction I’m heading. I wish I knew that the direction I’m heading will help make an impact on the world. I wish that I was starting new, being in a new place with new people and a new culture. I wish I felt the stubborn determination and certainty that usually characterizes my personality and my decisions. My instinct is to run, start with a clean slate in a new place. Maybe that is what 2015 will bring, but right now I just don’t know. So instead I’m attempting to lean in, be present, and maybe be a little vulnerable from time to time.