This is first yoga selfie I ever took and one of the most transformational moments in my adult life.
I snapped it during my first summer working in Japan and Facebook’s “On This Day” feature reminded me that I took and shared this back in 2011. This pivotal moment of self-reliance taught me then and reminded me again this week of how brave and scary it is to venture out of your comfort zone and the dividends that doing so will pay out in experiences and connections with people and places in the world. It isn’t always easy, but it always worth it.
When I got to the university where I teach in the summer for the first time in 2011, I was afraid of everything. When I first arrived I spent most of my time crying when I wasn’t working. When I came back to my on-campus apartment from a meeting, I would start crying again. Often uncontrollably. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want my new colleagues to think I was weak or unfit for the job. I had wished, hoped, applied for, and finally gotten an opportunity to teach abroad. I was shocked and confused at myself, thinking: “You wanted so badly to work abroad, so why are you spending all your free time in tears?”
Now I know that I was experiencing culture shock in the same way I had 10 years earlier when studying abroad in Mexico. I cried uncontrollably for the first 2 days in Mexico. My host mother was really strict with me and informed me that I would only speak Spanish in her home. I agreed. Language study was largely why I was studying abroad. Eventually she softened, our relationship developed and so did my Spanish. A few weeks later I was terrified again when she started speaking English with me because she wanted to practice her English.
In 2011 when this photo was taken with a self-timer, I remember being disoriented by new living and working environments, new colleagues, new social circles, cultural and language barriers, etc. I had left everyone and everything familiar back home. I missed my dog and kitties. I didn’t know how to do basic things like read food labels nor speak with sales clerks. My colleagues gifted me special water on my doorstep from my now beloved dragon water shrine and I was afraid to drink it for fear it would make me sick. My course coordinator gifted me some lilies his neighbor had given him that were intended for his wife and I was terrified that I would make a bad impression on her. I was afraid that students would knock on my on-campus door and beg for better grades.
I was a walking nerve end.
As is usually the case, none of my worst fears came true. To this day, I’m still trying to not let fear run the show, but my goodness this photo reminds me that fear has a history with me of trying its best to try and take the wheel and drive my life.
This photo was from my first weekend in Minamiuonuma. My aunt prophetically told me before I left: “While you’re there, you’ll find your own time and have adventures on your own. She was so right. This photo is proof. I remember feeling a streak of bravery and wanted to go explore, so I rode my bike up the Mizunashi Gorge. I found the river, this place, and thought: “I should take some yoga photos here!” It still remains one of my favorite places to visit time and again and seeing it daily on my post-work rides and runs reminds me of this truth:
We are so much bigger than our fear wants us to be.
This photo represents vastness, freedom, strength, and flow. By going with the flow that day, I learned to trust myself. After trusting my ability and learning to sit with my fear, an abundance of positive and transformative moments were put into motion.
Managing fear is a lifelong skill for me and I think it always will be. I know this because fear always comes back and reminds me of all the “what ifs” after the Dreamer part of me speaks her mind. For example: after I snapped this photo I remember biking into town for a festival, getting hoisted by men in white wrap shorts, meeting colleagues at a festival, and enjoying the quaintness of the local and rural Japanese small town scene. It was all so delightful. Then I remember refusing an offer for a ride home, choosing to bike back home like the independent woman that I am after this exalted day… and having fear take over yet again while I tried to find my way home in the vastness of the open sky and rice fields in the dark. I was afraid I would lose my way. And once again, my worst fear didn’t come true.
As Liz Gilbert is so famous for saying, us ambitious dreamers need to remember to allow fear to stay in the car for the road trip of life. We can’t ever kick fear out of the equation. Fear is always trying to serve us by reminding us of the worst case scenario. Fear is trying to keep us safe, so it gets to come along for the ride. But it doesn’t get to pick the route nor the music. We will listen to fear, but we can’t let it drive or we will never go anywhere, meet anyone, or pursue any of our dreams.
Much love to you brave and fearful beauties.
Breathe and believe.