It was September 2012 when I finally decided to go abroad by myself. I had been thinking about doing this for years already. But I never felt confident enough to do so – or in other words, it scared the shit out of me. But at that moment in 2012 I was ready. I wanted to do something big. It was time to face my fear: To be truly alone. I wanted to prove that I can do it to myself and everyone else. Just 6 more months until I finished university and off I go.
I’m going to do it. But where do I go? Australia, Asia, South America, New Zealand…? Australia it is. To make this decision was surprisingly easy. The weeks passed by and I was still convinced it’s going to be great. Just me and my backpack. Oh yes, and some kangaroos, snakes and scorpions of course! Koalas! Don’t forget the koalas! However, at that point I didn’t yet know how many backpackers actually travel to Australia. 606 000 each year FYI.
Weeks flew by. Christmas. New Years. And I still didn’t do anything to prepare for my trip. I didn’t book any flights, didn’t plan my route or booked any accommodation. What? Visa and insurance? Nah! Making the decision to leave was easy but to fully commit to it wasn’t. I kept pushing it away. Tons of time, right? After I finished my bachelor thesis in February there was really no excuse anymore. Do I really want to do this? Is that really necessary? Yes! Why again? Because you need to know. Because you have to get away and figure out who the heck you are. Right!
But what if…?
So I got to work. I applied for my visa which I received 2 days later (Australia is awesome like that). I booked my flight (an open return ticket which allows me to change the date and time for my flight back home, anytime, for free, with just 2 days’ notice) and researched my insurance options. Wait! Hang on. Do I really want to do this? I don’t know. Maybe? And here they were again. Doubts. Suddenly my head flooded with all the reasons why I shouldn’t go. I couldn’t even remember why I wanted to travel in the first place. Instead I thought about all the things that could go wrong. What if I run out of money? What if I get sick? Or I get robbed? What if I hate it? Why did I decide to go again? That doesn’t make any sense anymore. It took me a few days and some ass kicking from my friend to realize that I had cold feet. Cold feet like, if I don’t put them in warm water immediately my blue toes will fall off. That kind of cold feet. How did that happen? I was so sure until 2 days ago. So I told myself that this must be a normal reaction. I mean no one always sees the world clear all the time. Sometimes we let our emotions cloud our judgement. Especially when we step out of our comfort zone. But how do I get my “that is a great idea” self back, I thought? How to fight doubts? By recognizing and fighting those negative thoughts! You will never be able to overcome something if you don’t recognize that it is there. I mean doubts are there for a good reason. But that doesn’t mean they are your enemy and you have to give in every time. Focusing on what holds you back can help you see which thoughts are realistic and important. You might even find out that some of your doubts are totally unreasonable. So I took a piece of paper, wrote them all down and tried to find a solution.
What if I run out of money and I have to fly back home? I have to calculate and save enough money to survive. I prepared resumes so I can start applying for jobs if needed. If that doesn’t work, I fly back home thanks to my open return ticket. At least I tried.
What if my family and friends don’t approve? That is a risk I have to take if I want to fulfill my dreams I guess.
What if I get robbed? That one is a bit tricky since I need my passport to flight back home. So I made a plan on how to keep my documents safe. I also researched the German embassy in Australia just in case.
What if I get a rare virus and nobody can figure out how to save my life? That one might be a bit unreasonable don’t you think? Next!
What if I hate it? I researched online about the emotional challenges I might face during a trip like this. Beside reading some travel blogs I refreshed my memories regarding a culture shock and how to deal with it. I set myself a time frame of 3 months. If I still hate it, I just go back home.
I wrote everything down until I run out of bad scenarios. Even though my solution for some problems was to fly back home that doesn’t mean I have to follow through with it. I can still try to fix a problem when I actually face one. What it did though was to show me a way out if I needed one and that’s what made me feel better. So there it was again. My “that is a great idea” self. I was sure again that this is something I wanted to do. It’s now or never. And so I did.
Whatever you do you need to be aware that doubts will always arise. We cannot be sure what the future holds for us. There will always be some uncertainty about how things will go. What is important is that you don’t let your doubts paralyze you. If you don’t fight them they will always prevent you from taking positive actions. Doubts are an inevitable part of life. The important thing is that we act in spite of them.
How to fight doubts
So let’s get you ready to fight your doubts. Here are my secret weapons summarized to get you going for your big adventure.
- You need to know that doubts can hit you at any time and that this is something completely normal. Just because you have doubts doesn’t mean that you are not ready to face the challenge. Your brain is just telling you that you have never done this before and that you should think it through in order to protect you.
- Once you have doubts, recognize them as such and nothing more. Don’t read too much into them. I know your brain is going to tell you things like “You can’t just do that. That is crazy. Just imagine what your family and friends will think.” or “You are not a brave person. Firefighters and policemen are brave, but not you. You are pretty arrogant when you really think that you can do this.” or “You never really belonged to the smart people in school and now you want to study medicine? That is never going to happen. You will fail in the first year and end up with nothing. Everyone will laugh at you. Just stay where you are.”. Don’t let your doubts fence you in. It’s not like your brain can look into the future and therefore know everything already.
- Once you acknowledge your doubts start to fight them. Write them all down. Get those ghosts out of your head and put them on a piece of paper. Now look at them. They are really just words. You can even draw a scary cartoon picture next to them to identify what they really are. Small nasty doubts, not reality. Make them look like a big hairy monster with blue teeth and tiny ears.
- Now read every single doubt and think about how realistic they really are. Cross out the ones like “If I go alone to the movies everyone will stand up, point their fingers and laugh at me before they start throwing their popcorn at me.” Your list should be much shorter already. Right?
- Now it’s time to look at the more realistic doubts a bit closer. Yes, they look scary I know. What can we do to make them less threatening? Let’s find a plan B for each of them. An alternative scenario which we maybe haven’t thought of yet. Or simply a way out of an uncomfortable situation like I did above. Write your solutions behind every doubt. You are feeling better already aren’t you?
- Your brain is not a fool and therefore it will come up with more doubts over time. Add them all to your list and go though the steps again. You will see that after a while those steps will run automatically through your head without you having to write them down anymore. “You are not a painter! You have never done that before. You don’t know anything about painting. Stop being so silly to think that anyone would enjoy your pictures. What the fuck? Oh right, doubts. Can that really be true? Maybe. I don’t know anything about painting but I could learn some tricks. And if nobody really enjoys my paintings that is ok too because I can. Worst case scenario is that I won’t have fun with it. If that is the case I will just donate the materials and try something else.”
Be brave. Be awesome. Be you.