I grew up living in the same town for 13 years. I was never the new student, and my future was always relatively certain: I knew after elementary school I would attend this middle school, and then that high school. I knew this would most likely be my group of friends, and I would be living in the same house.
When I shipped off to college (Sko Buffs), I was actually stoked to get out of a life a knew too well. I was itching for a change of scene, new friends, and an education full of wonder and growth. Change didn’t scare me, and I think that’s mainly because in college, all the students are going through the changes and experiencing the same nervousness and excitement as you. I spent 4 years within walking distance to all my best friends, I knew my college town front to back, and was secure in school.
My first taste of discomfort happened after I graduated college and moved into my Denver apartment with a girl I didn’t know (whom eventually would be in my wedding), my then boyfriend moved away to pilot training, and I started my first “big girl” job. Though it was an adjustment, I found it to be a relatively quick one, as my family was still within a reasonable driving distance and many of my friends from college also moved to Denver.
The discomfort I felt moving from Boulder to Denver was childsplay compared to my move from Colorado to Mississippi, and from Mississippi to Oregon. Not only was I leaving my friends and family to be with my now husband, I was leaving job security, financial and general independence, my own apartment, my state, my dog, Target, Trader Joe’s, adequate brunch places and basically all great things that a city offers. On top of this move, I was newly engaged and desperately trying to figure out all of the hundreds of emotions I was dealing with day-to-day (see my very first post for more on that). I had zero certainty. I had zero sense of comfort, and I had all the anxiety.
As a normally self-proclaimed social butterfly, I found myself on the verge of panic every time I went to meet new people at this new base we were stationed at. I don’t think it was super noticeable to anyone, but my insides were dying: hot flashes, heart palpitations, stuttering, nausea, light-headedness. It took everything in me not to have a public meltdown in front of everyone – one of my biggest fears. Who the hell am I? I would think to myself, with shame. I was the girl who conquered 7 interviews with one company, consisting of an hour and a half grilling session with 4 interviewers against me. I was the girl that handled that with confidence, grace, and ease – who got the job. I was the girl who most would describe as talkative, social and emotionally intelligent. This intense realization of A. being barely able to handle myself in uncomfortable situations and B. not knowing who I was or what was happening to me anymore, ultimately led me to avoid social situations for a while.
It wasn’t that I suddenly developed social anxiety, I simply didn’t know how to handle big change.
I found myself being afraid of discomfort; I found myself having anxiety about anxiety.
I could give you tons of examples about how I let discomfort overpower me, which led to intense anxiety or avoidance of the situation all together. But that doesn’t matter, what matters is how I handled (and am still handling) it.
If I’m asked to go somewhere, or do something, that I know will make me feel anxious or uncomfortable, I go or do it anyway.
I was asked to go to coffee with my husband’s flight commander’s wife.
Brain: Oh she’s so sweet, but that is a bit of pressure, flight commander’s wife?? What if I say something career ruining for Ryan. Also that’s a lot of active listening, and I always concentrate more on whether or not I look like I’m actively listening than I am actually listening. OMFG.
Me: Mmk, cool. Now go.
Result: She’s literally the easiest person to talk to. I got a smoothie, her cute little daughter was there, is was natural, normal, and comfortable. I survived.
Ryan had to work last weekend so I was invited to drive down a 3.5 hour drive to the Redwoods by myself and meet up with two gals. One I had hung out with once before, and the other I hadn’t met yet.
Brain: That’s a long drive by yourself. You know what happens when you get too much thinking time…Also what if you crash in the place where you have no service.
Me: Mmk, cool. Pack your shit and let’s go.
Result: I set up camp by myself which I was proud of. We had good wine, and walked amongst nature’s giants. Did my brain run a million miles an hour for the 3.5 hour drive alone? Yes. Was it a humbling experience and am I glad I did it? Also yes. I survived.
I was invited to go to San Diego with a new friend, for about a week. Leaving my husband, traveling alone (something I do literally all the time but for some reason never quite get used to), and rooming with someone I met just about a month ago.
Brain: Hmm that sounds fun but oh what if you have a medical emergency and you don’t know where the nearest hospital is. What if you paid all that money and had a horrible time. And if you have a horrible time in San Diego, can you have fun anywhere? No.
Me: Mmk, cool. Book your ticket.
Result: TBD. I’m going at the end of the month. But, if the pattern continues, I enjoyed it and survived.
And here’s the real kicker, if it doesn’t go okay, and I’m uncomfortable and anxious the whole time, I’m still doing it.
I have learned that I cannot let my fear of discomfort stop me from living my life. Sometimes I’ll be so glad I did it, and other times I may not be, but I would rather reflect on that after I’ve done it rather than reminisce on what could have been.
The key is to sit with the anxiety; sit with discomfort. Only then can its power be taken away.
And this is precisely why I’m diving in to moving across the world for the next several years. Thanks to the Air Force and my hubs for constantly encouraging me to be uncomfortable. I’m aware this move won’t be nearly as challenging as the next one, and so on. But as long as I’m fully content, my growth is stunted.
So, does the idea of diving into the unknown make you uncomfortable? Go do it, only then can you know what’s on the other side.