That intensely overpowering rush of emotions that surge forth when you know you’re about to do or say or hear something that you’re not completely sure you know or trust or want? You know the one that forces you to slam shut your eyes, retract your chin, shake your head microscopically, suck any moisture in your mouth, swallow hard, and take a deep breath – all at the exact same time?
It happened to me about 37 times in 12 months. And none of those occasions were caused by a hangover…well, maybe one, at about 11:01pm on New Year’s Eve 2001…but more on that another time.
The first time I was perched on the padded brown naugahyde edge of a king-sized waterbed when I swallowed hard and told my father I’d be leaving for a little while. Well, a year. On vacation. To the other side of the world. Where hundreds of poisonous animals live. And equally dangerous single boys. Oh, and I had no job there. Or even a friend or family member there in case of emergency. But it made COMPLETE sense that I simply.must.go.now.
And so the adventure began.
At the ripe old age of 26 I bravely decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of traveling to Australia by myself. I took a year long sabbatical from my job and bought my ticket from Toronto to Sydney. Oh the adventure! The wanderlust! The absolute freedom of embarking on my own adventure with no one to be held accountable to but myself!
It’s no wonder I nearly shat myself when I got on that plane.
What was I thinking?! My ‘life’ was just getting started. I graduated from University, I had a solid and steady job working for the government. I was finally making money. Getting settled. Following a path. Am I really going to do this?! Who do I think I am?! Why in the hell did I figure now was a good time to travel halfway around the world with only my backpack as a companion and no real plan other than to land in Sydney and stay 2 nights at a hostel called The Funk House – that I would later learn was nestled right in the heart of hooker heaven.
What the hell was I thinking?!
Thing is, I wasn’t thinking….I was feeling….then doing. And well, those instincts haven’t steered me wrong yet.
And 15 (gasp!) years later, I still believe that it was THE BEST DECISION of my life. I knew I would be learning a lot about the mysterious ‘land down under’ and all it’s intriguing animals and vast landscapes, but little did I know how much I would learn about myself in the process. Traveling solo gave me the courage and the strength to know that whatever life threw at me, I could handle it.
Even halfway around the world. Literally.
And CRIKEY, that year away handed me some serious life lessons. Lessons I’m not sure I would have received had I stayed in the safe cocoon of my government job back in Canada. So what lessons did the land down under deliver?
1. Things happen FOR you, not TO you.
You.will.be.ok. I realized this when I was delivered some truly shocking news that my dear friend Tracey had been tragically killed in a car accident. I had never experienced the death of someone so close to me, and close to my age, let alone experiencing the roller coaster of emotions with no friends or family to comfort me. Shock. Disbelief. Denial. Anger. And deep, deep sadness and loss. The ONE THING I feared most about traveling so far away was having someone fall ill or die while I was gone and IT HAPPENED. And it hit me hard. But you know what else happened? I learned I could face my deepest fear, dive into the depths of my emotions, and learn how strong I truly was. I learned how to grieve and say goodbye to someone so close to my heart without those closest to me to support me. Which leads me to…
2. Let people help you.
I’m a fiercely independent woman (this is not shocking news) and had always been proud of the fact that I can set a goal and achieve it on my own. But when Tracey died, I fell apart. I didn’t know how to deal with such grief and sadness and quite frankly, I was lost. But thankfully at that time I had a temp job as an Executive Assistant to a phenomenal woman named Robin who took tender loving care of me. She knew my coping mechanism of ‘diving into work’ wasn’t working and arranged for me to go to therapy on her dime. And although I declined at first, she persisted and I knew it was what I had to do to put me back track. Through therapy I was also able to open up to the friends I had made at the hostel and even bawled crying on the shoulder of the guy I had a major crush on (his shirt was soaked). And you know what? It was the first time I felt safe enough to fall and and be truly vulnerable with a guy I liked. And you know what else? It felt amazing to be held and comforted and it’s why I still cry at this scene in the movie ‘Waitress‘ when Jenna writes this note to her unborn baby:
Being vulnerable in front of others isn’t weakness and in fact, people like to help and to be needed. So LET THEM. A hard lesson for this gal who is normally the rock for others.
3. Wherever you go, there you are.
I was super excited about being on the other side of the world where NO ONE KNEW ME. I could therefore be, well, whoever the hell I wanted to be. No more lil’ Miss Good Girl! Nope, I was going to be my own ‘Sasha Fierce’ and take on different wild personas in different towns and have one helluva good time being this crazy alter-ego.
Alas, there I was.
The same me in Canada came with me to Australia. Thankfully, I like me. But it was also the same me that got scared, exhausted, or sick and wanted her Mom to take care of her because life can be hard on your own and especially hard when you’re traveling alone. But as I said before, it’s all about finding the support that’s in and around you. Because it’s always there. Sometimes we forget where to find it, but it’s always there. And I find traveling allowed me the time and space to truly connect with myself. To discover who I really was, what I was made of, and what I really wanted. Not easy questions to answer in the usual busyness of everyday life.
4. Feeling small can be expansive.
A 3-day sailing trip around the tranquil Whitsunday Islands provided one of those ‘tripifany’ moments I seek out on every vacation. I was sitting outside in the bow of the boat basking in the stillness of the night and having a sort of ‘moon bath’. Above me was this amazingly endless and clear night sky and below me a deep, vast and wondrous ocean filled with mystery. And I had a moment of feeling like a mere speck of matter in this crazy Universe and yet, I also felt wildly connected to it all. In that quiet moment I remember putting the wish out to ‘get paid to travel the world’ and on a cellular level I knew it was absolutely possible. I mean, look at where I was, who I was with, all the abundance and wonderment around me…people on that very boat were getting paid to travel and I knew I could too. And wouldn’t you know it a short time later, that dream came true. Little did I know that on the bow of that hand carved boat I was also carving out the path for my next career.
5. You can be brave and afraid in the exact same moment.
This picture says it all non? The ‘let’s do this!’ hand gesture (am obviously not Hawaiian) and the look of ‘what the hell am I about to do?!?’ face. But, when an opportunity presents itself you must literally take the leap. And these moments present themselves all the time in our lives. To jump or not to jump? Most of the time I find my decision comes down to knowing that it’s better to say “Oh well”, then “What If?” and always trusting my gut.
Just be wary of ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ that would then cause your t-shirt to rise up over your face and expose said gut whilst taking the leap and flashing the crowd below. That’s my other piece of advice.
So ya, the magical land of Oz delivered some doozy lessons for me. Lessons about inner strength, trusting others in your most fragile times, making magical wishes in magical places and loving yourself through it all. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
By the way, whatever happened to water beds? And naugahyde? Or did we just get lazy and call it ‘pleather’ now? Some mysteries of the world may never be explained…