Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. — Helen Keller
Brave and courageous are two words friends and family consistently use to describe me. I often don’t feel like I live up to those descriptors though. Although I speak out against injustices, am not afraid to show off my feminist thoughts, and am actively seeking out new and adventurous situations, my mind is occasionally plagued with self-doubt and fear.
A friend and recent Nashville housemate made a bet with me. As an experienced unicycler, he convinced me that I could learn to ride a unicycle within the three remaining weeks I had in Nashville. The journey wasn’t easy and I quickly grew frustrated with my lack of balance and ability to ride further than four feet. At one point my friend came out to watch my progress. After falling off repeatedly at the same place only four rotations in he said, “You’re afraid of something. You’ve got a mental block. You’re not letting yourself go.”
It was true. I had fallen off many times, painfully twisted my ankle, and ripped open my jeans. My black and blue knees and swollen and cut-up ankles were proof that I had taken a beating, and I was letting that beating get the best of me. I had to put aside my fear and persevere in order to defeat the mental block. A week after this conversation I was riding further than our original bet.
Fear is an emotion women have ingrained in us, constantly prickling our senses and putting us on edge even if at just a subconscious level. We’re irrational if we don’t fear, because if we aren’t in fear then we aren’t on guard, and if we aren’t on guard than we’re naïve. As a young woman who has been traveling the road since late June, fear of safety has been a pressing matter on my mind.
Being the Midwest Iowa cornfield girl that I am, I have a general disadvantaged tendency to believe I can do anything and be fine. I’ve had numerous experiences while traveling where people have told me not to walk alone at night. I appreciate the warnings, especially in unknown territories, because placing me in dangerous situations is not something I consciously strive to do. Yet I become indignant and frustrated that I must abide to these social laws of womanhood and fear when clearly I’m an independent individual who should have the freedom to walk home at midnight if she chooses to.
I made the conscious decision to become a nomad, trading my possessions, part-time job, savings account and cheap and comfortable bedroom in Pittsburgh for the open road, discovery, excitement, wonder, and freedom. But along with that freedom was a new level of responsibility, choices, unknown situations, insecurity, and fear.
I’ve always worried about unnecessary things: money, employment, school loans, failure, insurance, health, and rape are just a few pressing fears on my conscious. But that’s why I’m certain this nomadic journey is necessary. Wandering feet have always been a dominant trait of mine and traveling makes me happy. An unplanned lifestyle helps me become more introspective and creative, and I love meeting other wandering souls when roaming the unknown. When traveling I feel as if I’m living this short life to its full-potential and the awareness that a new discovery may be lurking around any corner is all I need to keep me going.
So how can I balance my fear and my desire for a nomadic life?
A Buddha quote I’ve always been drawn to is, “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” There’s a proper balance between appropriate fear, which results in responsibility, and a reasonable care-free attitude, which results in my wholeness. I have decided to live as a woman willing to become incredulous to fear and follow her dreams.
I will admit I am fortunate to have the self-sustaining means, however meager my part-time freelance writing gigs may be, to go on the road and write. I am confident, though, that all people, regardless of gender, should strive to live out their dreams in whatever capacity is available to them. As the wise Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” Your fear could be something as small as learning something new (unicycling, for instance) or something much more life-changing like moving to a new city. You must realize that whatever is holding you back from what you most want to do is likely rooted in fear. Then set that fear aside.