Earlier this week, I stepped foot in Austin, Texas for the first time. This was also my first time visiting the state. I’ve lived in New York City for most of my life. I’ve never seen the American South, but I’ve always found the State of Texas intriguing.
Before last week, I lived in Bogota, Colombia. I had been living there for almost a year and a half. Before I lived in Colombia, I traveled for a year to over 50 countries and territories worldwide. In several of these countries, I stayed for longer than a month.
I’ll be honest: It’s not easy for me to just up and leave and move to a place I’ve never been to. It may seem like it is, but it isn’t. It fills me with a great amount of anxiety. The thought makes me lose focus on work, it distracts me when I’m reading, it takes me away from the moment every chance it gets.
Moving means that I won’t see my friends for a long time, it means that I’m plunging myself into a new place and society and I have no idea how that society will welcome me and how I will be treated and how I will feel when I’m there.
I was sitting at my desk the night before my flight to Austin and took some time to analyze my thoughts.Though they made me feel uncomfortable, I didn’t want them gone. I accepted my thoughts for what they were, and I accepted what I was feeling: unpleasant thoughts, fear, a hot heaviness in my gut, a tightening in my chest. I could inhale until my lungs were ready to burst and it would take the discomfort away for only a few seconds.
I decided to ask: Why am I feeling this way at all?
After graduating university, I quit my job and booked a one-way ticket to Europe and told myself that I wouldn’t come back until I had depleted my savings traveling the world. After I traveled for a full year, I decided that I wouldn’t go back to work but instead decided to dedicate myself full-time to writing a book. A few weeks after finishing my book, I decided to move to Colombia.
There were many reasons for this. I had never been to South America, and I wanted to see and experience it. I wanted to learn Spanish, a language I studied but never really practiced outside of the classroom. A friend of mine had lived in the country and I took that as a nice way to be introduced to it. I had never been to Colombia, I had never been to South America, I knew only friends of friends, I had no job and no money, but I took the risk anyway, with the same level of anxiety I felt when I moved to Austin only a week ago.
Fast forward a year and a half later, and I needed to force myself to leave Colombia because I was enjoying living there so much. I learned to speak Spanish fluently, I met hundreds of people, I traveled to dozens of cities in 7 different South American countries, and I discovered a world that is now very dear to me, a world that has shown me how good life can feel and how loving people can be. A world that I would not have discovered had I given into my fears and anxieties and stayed home.
How could I have guessed that this was going to happen?
I couldn’t have guessed, and that is what, surprisingly, is the root cause of my anxiety now.
I was sitting at my desk in the dark, lit only by a small yellow lamp, thinking about my anxiety. I tried to find the reason for it. I thought about moving to Austin, my chest felt tight. I thought about leaving family and friends. I thought about not being able to find a good place to live in, I thought about all the problems and issues that could come up with money, I thought about my job laying me off and then I’d be stuck in a city where I knew no one, I thought about how people would receive me. I thought and thought and thought.
I still haven’t learned my lesson, that my anxiety is a consequence of my inclination to believe that something will turn out poorly, despite me not having any evidence or reason to believe that it really will.
This is the story that I keep telling myself, despite the fact that most of the time my decisions have had a positive impact on my life, and not the reverse. And worse, I keep believing this story.
No matter what I tried to tell myself, my mind always kept going back to telling me that moving to Austin would be detrimental for me in some way, that it would mean life would get worse, despite all the good things that I had heard about the city. The very fact that it was a place that I had never been to made me feel this way, despite the fact that only a year ago, I had moved to an entirely different country and continent with no money, no friends, no job, and absolutely no knowledge of the language.
I’ve learned that a great way to relieve this anxiety is to simply tell myself that I just don’t know how things will be.
This may sound counterintuitive: How can not knowing how something will turn out give you less anxiety than knowing? Because simply, it is a reality—you don’t know. How many times have you thought that something was going to go poorly but instead it ended up going well? Or when you thought that something was going to go well but it ended up being a disaster.
Telling myself that I truly cannot know what the next day will bring, but more importantly, whether or not what the day will bring will truly be positive or detrimental for my future well being, relieves my anxiety completely. I can’t know if something good will happen, or something bad, and whether or not it might seem bad now but will actually have positive results in the future.
In any case, I need to go. I need to leave my comfort zone constantly. For me, knowing is better than not knowing, experiencing is better than speculating, facing fear and anxiety is better than being consumed by it, learning is far better than succumbing to comfort.
And learning can be painful, but it’s much more painful to give in to the fear and comfort, and wonder what you could have learned but never did.