At my first Workaway, I met two girls from Alaska who are traveling through Europe for the summer. Five years younger, their stories both reminded me so much of the same struggles and questions I had when I was 21, faced with a million and one life-changing decisions to make. Here are some things I shared with them and words of advice I would’ve given myself five years ago:
“You don’t have to have all the answers right now.”
When I was in college, every decision seemed black and white. Options only presented themselves in pairs- left or right, yes or no. And of course, every decision had to be made right now. Many of us are taught to live with a linear mentality. This way of thinking focuses on outward milestones and measures success by points on a line. We’re taught to believe the lie that what we do is more important than who we are. We’re encouraged to live within certain societal time constraints and often judged if we “fall behind.” We’re supposed to graduate college on time, get married before we’re 30, have our first child before 35, and retire (if you’re lucky) by 60.
This creates an overwhelming amount of pressure! Since this mindset permeates our culture it’s simply unacceptable to not know the answer to “What are you going to do next?” Instead of embracing the questions and resting in the possibility of the unknown, we rush ahead to the next project, racing towards the next point on the line. This “goal oriented” way of thinking is often celebrated and we feel purposeless if we don’t have a future task to look forward to crossing off our to-do list. When we live this way we forget to contemplate, to hover in the tension and uncertainty. We stop trusting that time will unfold all we need to know. Rest in the unknown, let the questions present themselves and stop worrying so much about the answers.
Worrying and thinking about the answers to my Pharmacology exam the next morning!
Listen to your doubts and misgivings.
I had almost completed my nursing degree when I began to have serious doubts and questions about my career choice. I read the book Roadtrip Nation-A guide to discovering your path in life and was so inspired by the biographies of people passionate about their jobs. I knew I didn’t feel this same passion for my profession and I longed for the freedom to discover an alternate path. Instead of paying attention to these doubts, I shoved them aside and kept hoping I would someday feel differently. I told myself that I was obligated to finish my degree and that it was too late to change my mind.
So many of us have been taught that doubt and second guessing are negative patterns of thought. We’re told they are a weakness in character and we’ve learned to silence them. I believe certain doubts can be harmful and lead to unnecessary fear or indecisiveness. Yet, some doubts we should pay attention to. Feelings of misgiving that often come from a place more instinctual and less cerebral can be small warnings from our authentic self. That gut feeling of unease may be trying to protect us from giving up on our true desires.
You have all the confidence you need, you just have to tap into it!
“I wish I were as confident as you…I could never do that.” I hear these words a lot when I share my story with others. I can see a desire in them to follow their own dreams but they don’t believe in themselves. I honestly don’t think any of us are born with more self-confidence than another. We all carry the talents, gifts, and resources within ourselves to make our dreams come true. We simply have to tap into the well of confidence we already possess and start cultivating it!
Each of us have authentic hopes and desires. These dreams come from deep within our souls and have nothing to do with the outside pressures we are constantly listening to. We are born with these dreams, we grow up with them and they will always be a part of us. If we are capable of dreaming and longing for something, it’s because we’re able to do or become exactly that! Confidence comes from saying yes to these authentic desires, from acknowledging that we are each unique and so have unique purposes in life. If God placed a desire on your heart it’s because He created you with the ability to achieve it! Trust your dreams, trust yourself, and the confidence you already possess to take that first leap of faith will manifest itself.Taking that first step of faith can sometimes seem impossible!
Learn to live with a certain amount of fear daily
When people ask me if I’m afraid when traveling alone my automatic response is “No.” But that’s not really true. Of course I’m afraid! I wouldn’t be sane if I neglected to think of the risks and dangers of traveling as a woman alone. The reason I answer “no” is because I don’t allow myself to dwell on this fear. I’ve learned to accept a certain amount fear as normal and I’ve learned to embrace it. In fact, sometimes I do things on purpose just because they scare me. In this way I’ve learned not to see fear as an obstacle but as a sign that I’m headed in the right direction. When I feel myself getting too comfortable or self-assured I will seek a new experience that stretches me and requires me to widen my safety zone. Whether it’s repelling backwards down a waterfall or ordering food at a French restaurant by myself, I don’t allow fear to hold me back from experiencing life.I look happy, but I was terrified!
Fear and faith are two sides of the same coin and one is useless without the other. If you begin by doing small things every day that scare you, soon you’ll feel comfortable living with a certain amount of fear and it will lose its power over you. It will become a blip on your radar, something to acknowledge and then move on from. Soon you’ll have to really think about it before you even realize you’re afraid. In the right situations, in the right proportion, fear can be healthy. It can teach us about our limits, our abilities, and our strengths. It’s okay to be scared. Embrace this fear and stop thinking of it as the enemy.
There’s more than one right way to do something.
People are complicated. Situations are complicated. The lifestyle that suits me may not suit you. It may not suit me ten years down the road. I recently read a book by Donald Miller, titled “Searching for God Knows What.” In one of the chapters he described a scenario in which aliens were told to visit the earth and observe human behavior. The main thing they noticed was how preoccupied humans seemed to be with comparing themselves to each other. The aliens noted how obsessive and constant this behavior was. In every interaction, each pastime, the ultimate goal was to measure ourselves against others.
There’s more than one right way. This is a truth I have to constantly remind myself. Life is not a one-way street where we collect all of our mistakes like moth eaten baggage to carry with us for eternity. It’s not a linear path that doesn’t allow us to turn around or look back. Life is kinder than this and allows us to learn and re-learn from our experiences, often circling back around to the place where we began. Each choice and decision whether good or bad, shapes and molds who we are and who we will become. When we allow the fear of doing the wrong thing to paralyze us we become incapable of taking risks. Instead, we passively let life happen to us, reacting to the choices of others instead of taking responsibility for our own decisiveness. Even the wrong choice can present unforeseen opportunities for blessings later in life.
Because of my nursing experience I was able to meet these lovely ladies while doing an internship in Ecuador!
What are some words of advice you would give your younger self? What wisdom have you learned from others that you carry with you?